The UCI Center for Complex Biological Systems (CCBS) promotes research and education in the area of systems biology broadly defined, which includes aspects of synthetic biology, genomics and functional genomics, computational biology, mathematical biology, biophysics, bioengineering and molecular biology. The goal is to develop a more comprehensive and accurate understanding of complex biological systems and their behaviors. The basic approach is to facilitate the formation of multidisciplinary research teams to address the most critical questions.
Major support for CCBS is provided by a grant (P50-GM076516) from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), as part of the National Centers for Systems Biology program. Additional funding for CCBS educational activities is provided by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
This booklet (Lighting The Way.pdf) tells the story of an extraordinary community of scientists, educators and administrators brought together by a remarkable initiative on the part of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). From the outset, the National Centers for Systems Biology program tapped into the very heart of a movement that was rapidly sweeping through the biomedical research establishment. In retrospect, many may argue that the Systems Biology “revolution” was an inevitable consequence of the successes of the molecular biology revolution, which brought us (and continues to bring us) deep knowledge of biological mechanism, but provides only limited insight into the underlying principles of biological organization. Systems Biology seeks to remedy this deficiency, exploiting quantitative approaches and tools from Mathematics, Physics, Computer Science, and Engineering to unravel the complex relationships between molecular mechanism and organismal function.
What could not be seen as inevitable, however, was that one institute of the NIH would take it upon itself to “manage” the Systems Biology revolution, at least within the United States. At a time of deep confusion within the biological and biomedical research community about what Systems Biology is, and whether it was going to have any lasting impact, the NIGMS had the vision to support Centers that would lead by example, lighting the way for researchers everywhere. Even more remarkably, the NIGMS had the foresight to insist that Centers devote themselves not just to the task of producing exemplary Systems Biology research, but also in lighting the way in education, community outreach, and institutional transformation.
The NIGMS also demanded that Center leadership, along with a subset of each Center’s membership, get together annually to share their accomplishments in science, education, and outreach. Out of these meetings grew a sense of common purpose and community that led to the establishment of a common web portal (at www.systemscenters.org) and a broad commitment to sharing resources and expertise for the benefit of the wider scientific community. Ultimately, the activities of the National Centers for Systems Biology galvanized a large group of scientific professionals into working together to make the Systems Biology revolution accessible to everyone.
One of the ways in which the Centers work together is that, if a task of importance to all of us needs to be done, one of the Center directors will always step forward to do it. In this case—on the occasion of the first Centers reaching their final (10th) “sunset” year—my Center volunteered to organize the publication of this booklet, commemorating all of the National Centers for Systems Biology that have been designated to date. It has been a pleasure and an honor to bring together the stories and accomplishments of each current Center, and to see the common threads of excitement, innovation, and hope that run through all of them. I hope you enjoy reading this.
Arthur D. Lander
Director, Center for Complex Biological Systems
University of California, Irvine