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New boost for systems biology includes cash for knowledge transfer

18 September 2006

Systems biology, the multidisciplinary approach that tackles bioscience problems by bringing together experimental and theoretical techniques, has been boosted by the announcement of two new initiatives, together worth over £35M, by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). The initiatives are designed to fund a range of projects in universities and institutes and encourage UK bioindustries to tap into the world-class expertise and facilities in the BBSRC systems biology community.

BBSRC and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) have committed at least £30M to a new Systems Approaches to Biological Research Initiative to further establish systems biology research in universities and institutes. The initiative aims to fund a range of systems biology research to investigate strategically important bioscience problems within BBSRC’s remit. The new projects, to be funded in 2007, will build on the £43.6M investment BBSRC and EPSRC have made in six university-based systems biology centres over the last two years.

Researchers from the six established centres are being invited to participate in the second new initiative, worth a total of £5M, which aims to help UK bioindustries exploit the cutting edge expertise and facilities in the centres. The Exploiting Systems Biology LINK Initiative is aimed at researchers at the systems biology centres and will allow them to work with industrial collaborators to use systems biology to address problems relevant to end-users. In common with all LINK initiatives, the industrial partners are required to contribute at least 50 per cent of full cost of each project. BBSRC is committing £2.5M to the initiative.

Professor Julia Goodfellow, BBSRC Chief Executive, said: “For several years BBSRC has highlighted the shift in the biosciences towards more predictive and quantitative approaches. These initiatives, together with the systems biology centres, represent an investment of over £85M and demonstrate that BBSRC is determined to maintain the UK’s world-class bioscience research base. It is particularly exciting to launch a new LINK initiative that will encourage researchers and industry to harness powerful systems biology tools to generate real-world applications.”

Professor John O'Reilly, EPSRC Chief Executive, commented: "EPSRC has been pleased to work with BBSRC on Systems Approaches to Biological Research and the systems biology centres, recognising the vital contribution techniques and researchers from the physical sciences and engineering  have to make to this important developing area of interdisciplinary research. Our shared investments should provide an excellent platform for this further initiative by BBSRC."

Systems biology means revolutionising the way bioscientists think and work by enabling multidisciplinary research combining theory, computer modelling and experiments. Integrative systems biology will make the outputs of biological research more useful and easier to apply to policy makers and industry, as well as providing completely new ways of understanding biological processes. A key feature is ‘predictive biology’ – developing models based on using experimental data to optimize the next hypothesise to be tested. The final goal of a predictive approach is to develop a mathematical model which can be used to understand the system being studied.

BBSRC and EPSRC have together funded six new Centres for Integrative Systems Biology since 2005. The centres, at the universities of Edinburgh, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Oxford and Imperial College London, are using systems approaches to investigate bioscience questions that include circadian rhythms, complex plant root models, ageing and disease.

ENDS

Notes to editors

The two schemes launched are:

  • Systems Approaches to Biological Research Initiative (SABR) – a BBSRC/EPSRC initiative open to all eligible institutions in the UK.
  • Exploiting Systems Biology LINK initiative (ESB-LINK) – a BBSRC initiative open to Named Investigators associated with the BBSRC/EPSRC Centres for Integrative Systems Biology and collaborators formally declared as affiliated to the centres.

Systems Biology is a new approach to studying animals, plants and microbes that combines theory, computer modelling and experiments. It is revolutionising how bioscientists think and work; and will make the outputs of biological research more useful, and easier to use in industry and policymaking.

Traditionally, biologists have used observation and experiment to describe how specific processes work on a case by case basis, and used their understanding to design more experiments to test each new case. The key to systems biology is that researchers combine experimentation with computer simulations in order to process experimental results, design new experiments and to generate generic and predictive solutions that are widely applicable.

About BBSRC

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £380 million in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk

About EPSRC

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK’s main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. The EPSRC invests £575 million a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone’s health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC also actively promotes public awareness of science and engineering. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK. Website address for more information on EPSRC: http://www.epsrc.ac.uk/

Contact

Matt Goode, Head of External Relations

tel: 01793 413299