New Research Directions

While maintaining its focus on gene expression, the Gene Center has broadened its research portfolio over the past few years to include developmental, genomic and systemic approaches. New groups working on computational and systems biology have joined the Gene Center, and the Alexander von Humboldt-Professorship awarded to Ulrike Gaul is dedicated explicitly to the development of a systems biological research focus.

What is systems biology? Organisms, cells, and even individual biochemical processes are complex multi-factorial systems that cannot be adequately characterized by traditional approaches. Systems biology seeks to determine all relevant components of a system and characterize their interactions. These interactions determine the behavior of the system when exposed to extrinsic or intrinsic perturbation, and in the long run, its ability to evolve. Building on recent technological advances, systems biology thus represents the natural next step in the development of the life sciences and medicine, with enormous potential for technological and conceptual innovation.

Systems biological approaches are being pursued in several institutions in the US and Europe. However, with its potent mix of biochemistry and biophysics, supported by strong theory in physics and mathematics, Munich is creating its own brand of molecular systems biology. We seek to anchor the systems-level analysis in a high-resolution mechanistic understanding of the underlying biochemical processes; central to our effort is thus the difficult task of experimentally tracking molecular events in a highly quantitative fashion, at genome-wide scale, and if at all possible, in the living organism.

These new developments in the Gene Center’s research portfolio will be supported by several institutional measures: a dedicated new building in the immediate vicinity housing the Research Center for Molecular Biosystems Munich, BioSysM, which is jointly funded by the federal and state governments and scheduled for completion in 2015; a state-wide research network to support junior groups with a systems-biological focus (BioSysNet), funded by the state of Bavaria; and the new Graduate School for Quantitative Biosciences Munich (QBM), established as part of the second round of the Excellence Initiative.

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