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£20M for new approach to biology

14 March 2005

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) have today announced an investment totalling almost £20M in three new Centres for Integrative Systems Biology. The new centres, at Imperial College London and the Universities of Manchester and Newcastle, will help to revolutionise the way that bioscientists think and work, by enabling multidisciplinary research combining theory, computer modelling and experiments in a systems approach across the life sciences and industry.

The majority of the funding will be provided by BBSRC but in recognition of the importance of multidisciplinary research approaches EPSRC will be providing £1M for each centre specifically to facilitate the integration of engineering, physical sciences and mathematics.

The three new Centres for Integrative Systems Biology will integrate cutting-edge bioscience research with theoretical modelling and mathematics, an approach that requires multidisciplinary teams with access to a range of facilities, expertise and training.

BBSRC Chief Executive, Professor Julia Goodfellow, said, “ The biological sciences are changing increasingly becoming more quantitative and predictive. Harnessing powerful tools from mathematics, physical and engineering sciences to address important biological questions is becoming more and more important. Systems biology approaches such as those we are just funding are needed to realise the full potential of the biosciences such as the faster development of new drugs, quicker ways of breeding new plants and the capability to use models to scale-up from molecular studies to whole systems.”

Imperial College London

The Imperial College centre will use state-of-the-art technologies to look at the interactions of a disease causing organism and its host on the level of molecules and individual cells. This will provide a platform for development of novel approaches to fight infectious diseases in humans, animals and plants.

Professor Jaroslav Stark of the Imperial College centre said, “ This centre brings together a wide range of skills from across the whole of the College, and in the long term will have a profound effect on how research in Biology is done at Imperial.”

The University of Manchester

Baker’s yeast has 6,000 genes, of which some 48% have human equivalents and could be medically significant. The Manchester Centre will build on world class research in this area to develop generic technologies that will be tested on yeast to further our understanding of this important model organism. They will generate and analyse large amounts of integrated experimental and computational data on scales from biomolecules to the behaviour of whole systems.

Professor Douglas Kell, leader of the Manchester centre, said, “ The era of genomics gave us the 'parts list' for many different organism, but a working cell or organism is no more a list of its parts than a house is a pile of stones or a radio a set of components. To understand how these things actually work we have to study them as a whole, and because they are complex it is necessary to make computer models of them and see how well they reflect the observable reality. This is what systems biology is about, and the award of our grant will enable us to develop a whole series of new approaches to doing systems biology."

University of Newcastle

The science of ageing is becoming increasingly important as the life expectancy in the developed world continues to increase. The Newcastle Centre will investigate fundamental biological processes underpinning healthy ageing and its links with nutrition. This requires a highly integrated systems biology approach to examine the complicated relationships between genes, molecules and cells.

Professor Tom Kirkwood, leader of the Newcastle centre, said, “The BBSRC has taken an important lead in recognising that today’s science is increasingly dependent on really strong working relationships between scientists trained in different fields. Although there has long been talk about the importance of multidisciplinary research, it is quite another thing to get the disciplines working really effectively together. The new Centres will be doing exactly that within the context of some really exciting, complex biology. The grant to Newcastle will help to establish the UK firmly as a world leader in the challenging science of ageing”.

ENDS

Notes to editors

The total funding for the Centres for Integrative Systems Biology is £19.25M.

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 more than £500 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.

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