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£6.5M Cross-Channel link up for Systems Biology

8 May 2008

The leading public life science funding agencies in the UK and France have announced a unique cross-channel partnership to enhance international collaboration in Systems Biology. The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR) have funded 10 new projects worth £6.5M. These will use Systems Biology to work on biological areas such as understanding a plant’s body clock, investigating insect responses to pheromones and building a model of signals in the brain.

Each project has at least one UK and one French partner institution and the initiative aims to build European collaboration in Systems Biology. BBSRC has already invested over £70M in UK and European Systems Biology initiatives and the UK is one of the world leaders in this new and growing approach to tackling bioscience problems. Systems biology is a revolution in the way bioscientists think and work. It brings together researchers across different disciplines, combining theory, computer modelling and experiments. Systems biology will make the outputs of bioscience research more useful and easier to apply in the real world, as well as advancing our understanding of biological processes.

The new projects will give the researchers involved access to complementary expertise and skills and will help develop the field of Systems Biology by coordinating BBSRC and ANR resources.

Mr Steve Visscher, BBSRC Interim Chief Executive, said: "Systems Biology holds great promise for delivering real, practical advances in healthcare, biotechnology and environmental research much faster than traditional biology. Collaborative initiatives with international partners enable us to increase the impact of our funding and the impact of the research being done by our scientists.

"We have been pleased to see that not only has the partnership between BBSRC and ANR resulted in a successful initiative but that the range and quality of the projects funded is also broadening the areas being studied by Systems Biology."

Mrs Jacqueline Lecourtier, ANR General Manager, said: "As a young agency created in 2005, this was the first bilateral call undertaken within the Health & Biology Department. By answering this call, Systems Biology growing communities showed that they were ready to share their views and expertises. Moreover, this initiative allowed BBSRC and ANR to fund high quality and cross-disciplinary proposals, which is one of our missions.

"ANR and BBSRC cooperation was very successful on both levels, management and scientific. Future collaborations involving additional countries are already on their way through the ERANET ERASysBio."

ENDS

Notes to editors

Ten projects involving 22 different universities and institutes in the UK and France have been funded. BBSRC has provided £4.85M of the total £6.5M

The funded projects are:

John Innes Centre, University of East Anglia, INRA Lyon, INRIA Montpellier, CNRS Grenoble
Modelling growth and gene regulation in floral organs

How regulatory genes coordinate cell behaviour to produce the macroscopic shape of organs is key to understanding how plants develop. A systems approach is required to produce quantitative models of how genes control shape from the cellular to the whole-organ scale.

Oxford Brookes University, University Bordeaux 2
Multi-level modelling of mitochondrial energy metabolism

Mitochondria are often described as the 'power plants' of cells as they are the source of most chemical energy in a cell from the nutriments we eat and the oxygen we breath. This project aims to model mitochondrial metabolism at a number of different levels. It may help us to understand how mitochondria adapt to meet the widely variable energy demands of the cell and the failure of normal mitochondrial function encountered in mitochondrial diseases, as well as many others including neurological disorders.

Royal Holloway University of London, University of Nottingham, CNRS Paris, INRA Evry
A systems biology approach to the elucidation of metabolic networks underlying health based quality traits in tomato fruit

The health promoting properties of diets rich in fruit and vegetables has been attributed to the synergistic effects of various phytochemicals in the food such as vitamins, flavonoids and carotenoids. This project aims to study an experimental model tomato that has very high levels of these health-related compounds. The researchers aim to use a systems biology approach to integrate information at many different levels about the tomato and to produce a predictive model of how the formation of these phytochemicals is controlled.

University College London, Inserm Bordeaux
Applied statistical and mathematical modelling of peripheral T-Lymphocyte homeostasis

T lymphocyte cells are a key part of the immunological system. This project aims to understand how the memory-like T cells are generated during lymphopenia. The researchers will do this by integrating immunology, mathematics and statistics.

University College London, University of Hertfordshire, Ecole Normale Supérieure- Paris, CNRS, Université Paris V
An integrative study of neural coding in the vestibular cerebellum: from cellular physiology to models of network behaviour

The part of the brain called the cerebellum has an important role in integrating sensory perception with our body's motor control. This project will infer the properties of cerebellar microcircuit and build a comprehensive model of how the brain computes inner hear information within the cerebellum. This will involve bringing together a range of physiological pproaches, neuronal computing and statistical physics.

University of Edinburgh, CNRS Banyuls sur Mer
Minimal models of the circadian clock in a novel biological system

Circadian clocks are important in the regulation of behaviour in animals and the same clock system in plants regulates germination, leaf movement, gas exchange to the atmosphere – affecting water conservation - and flowering. Understanding the plant circadian clock could allow us to develop new crops that are able to cope with changing seasonal conditions brought on by climate change.

University of Glasgow, INRA Montpellier & Avignon
A systems biology approach to integrating pathogen evolution and epidemiology

This project will develop a series of hierarchically-scaled models of population genetic processes characteristic of viral transmission. The researchers will apply these models to Foot-and-Mouth Disease virus and Plum pox virus and provide a statistical platform for 'forensic epidemiology' which will require the integration of spatial, temporal, and genetic data thereby enabling the elucidation of sequences of transmission events between individuals or groups that give rise to epidemics.

University of Glasgow, INRA Toulouse
Metabolomic systems biology analysis of differentiation in trypanosomes

Metabolites are the small molecules produced by metabolism – the chemical reactions that occur in living organisms in order to keep life going. This project will aim to fill a gap in our understanding of how metabolism works by studying groups of metabolites involved in cell differentiation. The researchers will be studying an extraordinary model system, Trypanosoma brucei, which undergoes an very complex life cycle, alternating its environment between the bloodstream of mammals and the tsetse fly.

University of Sussex, INRA Versailles, LORIA Nancy
Olfactory coding in the insect pheromone pathway: models and experiments

Using the moth pheromone communication system as a model, this research project aims to investigate how insects process smells through their brain's primary olfactory centres.

University of York, INSA de Lyon
Systems level analysis of animal metabolism by multicompartmental graph and constraints-based modelling

All living organisms are powered by metabolism, the set of chemical reactions that provide energy and the building blocks for growth and reproduction. An important outstanding problem in the metabolism of animals is how the different metabolic activities of the contributing organs are integrated. This project focuses on metabolic integration in an insect, one organ of which bears symbiotic bacteria required by the insect. Computational models of this complex system will be constructed and analysed with support from experimental data. This project will provide generic tools to explore the global properties of multi-compartment metabolic networks.

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 ANR

The French National Research Agency -ANR- (Agence Nationale de la Recherche) is the funding agency for research projects, created in 2005. The agency reaches out to both public & private research bodies within the framework of a mission that has three primary objectives:

  • to strengthen development of knowledge through high-level projects in all areas of research
  • to encourage both knowledge transfer and interactions between public and private laboratories
  • to develop public-private partnerships

For the year 2007, ANR has a total available budget of €825 million for research projects with a maximum duration of four years. Among which €166 million are dedicated to health and biology research projects. http://agence-nationale-recherche.fr

External contact

Marie-Ange Folacci, ANR Media & Public Relations Office

tel: (33) 1 7809 8070

Mathieu Cozanet, ANR Media & Public Relations Office

tel: (33) 1 7809 8107

Contact

Matt Goode, Head of External Relations

tel: 01793 413299
fax: 01793 413382

Tracey Jewitt, Media Officer

tel: 01793 414694
fax: 01793 413382