A “new language”

In one of the rare gloomy days in Barcelona a diverse audience filled with curiosity and great expectations for the 12th CRG Symposium gathered to learn a “new language”. The language of Systems Biology comes in many different forms. As James Sharpe, acting coordinator ID-100168349 of the Systems Biology department of the CRG, Systems Biology says the focus is on the interactions rather than on the components. This language has shown to be applicable to all biological systems and all biological processes.

The first session of the day opened with a perspective view of the field of networks by Dennis Bray. His work on bacterial chemotaxis has given great insight on the basis of signalling pathways. Specifically, studying the motor activation of flagella, that allow E. coli to swim in response to sources of attractants or repellents, and the corresponding signal amplification contributes to our understanding of cells in general. But he is the first one to ask “How close are we to a complete understanding?”… The question was left open.

Session 2 began with a call to make better models. “Biology is dynamic and networks change with time, said Michael Stumpf, therefore these changes have to be taken into account”. Moreover, he beautifully showed how the temporal element allows for uncovering of new interactions that might have been missed by considering networks as time-independent. Additionally, Stumpf addressed the importance of not relying exclusively on the fit of a certain model to the data as a guide to decide whether a model is good or not. “Model construction has to be based on sound statistics and domain expertise”, he finished.

Next, Béla Novák engaged the audience on cellular decision-making. Novák, an enthusiastic speaker, guided us through the cell cycle carefully explaining its main aspects and the checkpoint mechanisms controlling cycle progression. With the focus on START and Mitotic Exit, he uncovered the bistability of the reactions that make the shift from one phase of the cell cycle to another, conferring robustness to the system.

After an invigorating lunch, the third and last session of the day began. With a focus on neuronal circuits, Gonzalo de Polavieja went from the basic principles of organization of neuronal circuits, to structure-function relationships of these networks, and to decision-making in groups of animals.

The first day of the symposium ended with the poster session where again many different topics could be found, and elegantly accompanied by a glass of Spanish wine.


Image courtesy of Gualberto107 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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