Exciting but not magic

The second and last day of the 12th CRG Annual Symposium started a touch of humor when the chairman of the 4th Session encouraged the first speaker of the morning to let the audience see his dark side. García-Ojalvo, from the Pompeu Fabra University, started then his talk by asking: Why is the word noise not included in the Symposium´s logo, being noise so important to biological systems?

PICASOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOThrough a very intense talk, García-Ojalvo managed to convince the audience about noise being much more than just an intrinsic “problem” that biological systems have to cope with. Noise is in fact an intrinsic property that systems can exploit for their own benefit: Noise has been shown to help signal detection in complex systems such as human visual contrast, tactile and auditory detection systems, or detection of prays by paddlefish, explained García-Ojalvo. Moreover, the collective dynamic of many biological systems, such as the synaptic noise regulation of the UP/DOWN cycle during the sleep cycle, is regulated by noise. During an exciting talk García-Ojalvo showed the audience how intrinsic stochasticity can act as a rhythm enhancer, an information router, and a bet-hedger.

Session 4 finished with Patrick Aloy, from the IRB Barcelona, summarized the work of his group at IRB Barcelona towards the characterization and modelling of the protein-interaction network underlying Alzheimer´s disease and breast cancer.

During Session 5, after the coffee break, the topic moved to transcriptional control networks in Drosophila bastoderm by the hand of John Reinitz. Focusing on a single node of the transtriptional network of the Drosophila early embryo, eve, Reinitz showed us how to use the entire embryo to build a quantitative model of the transcriptional network at a cellular resolution. With the last part of his talk I am sure that Reinitz caused many in the audience to smile with nostalgia: based on the concept of canalization of development proposed by Waddington back in 1942, Reinitz introduced the concept of decanalization of gene expression. He showed us how using his transcriptional network model, they have discovered mutants displaying qualitatively altered and decanalized gene expression.

Session 5 finished with two extraordinary speakers, James Briscoe, from the National Institute for Medical Research in London, and Ricard Solé, from the Pompeu Fabra University. Briscoe´s talk focused on the development of the ventral part of the neural tube, which is governed by the morphogen Sonic Hedgehog. Solé, with a talk full of automats, complex systems and multiplexors, engaged the audience in Synthetic biology

After lunch, Marian Walhout, from the University of Massachussetts Medical School, opened the 6th and last session of the CRG Symposium. Walhout discussed her recent findings on the networks that mediate the effects of diet on gene expression and life history traits, such as aging, using the model C. elegans.

Should I? is both the question that organisms have to ask themselves all time, and the last question we heard today in the CRG Symposium. In the last talk of the Symposium Mark Siegal showed us his findings about a putative bet-hedging system in yeast that involves a stress protectant protein (TSLI). They found proteins co-fluctuating with TSL1 and a candidate pathway for this bet-hedging system: the MSN2/4 stress response pathway.

After two intense days in which models about almost everything have occupied our minds, the questions about what Systems Biology is able to do today, and what it will do in the future are still unanswered. Trying to understand the complexity underlying living systems is the goal, but no magic can be done to achieve this objective. In words of James Sharpe, Acting coordinator of the Systems Biology Programme at the CRG, “systems Biology is exciting, but it´s not magic”.


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