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At the Center, we have established a new multidisciplinary research and training program that synergizes the expertise of many interacting VCU investigators in order to focus on two overriding and interrelated concepts: biological information and complexity in biological systems. Participating investigators orient their collective efforts on a focused subset of carefully chosen research areas. The selected research foci reflect, complement, and energize current research efforts at VCU.

1. Overall Goal of the CSBC.  The overall goal of the Center is to globally elucidate and understand the functional roles of molecular interactions that vary both temporally and spatially in cells, tissues, organs and organisms. This involves identification of all of the myriad macromolecules that comprise the pathways and cascades of molecular interactions that drive the life processes of cells, the assessment of time-dependent information flow through the systems in both normal and pathological states, and finally the reduction of the mass of detailed data into a set of interacting theoretical models that describe these processes.

2. Research Model.  Our research model is one in which scientists historically separated by disciplinary boundaries work in close collaboration to advance the integrative discovery science and systems biology which have emerged as a consequence of the recent rapid advances in genomics, proteomics, and bioinformatics. Unlike conventional scientific approaches that study single genes or proteins, or the parts of the system, integrative discovery science and systems biology examine the complex interactions of large numbers of biological elements. The principles of complexity assume that these dynamical interactions synergize emergent properties that cannot be predicted or understood from the ‘parts list’, and must be observed and modeled at higher levels. Thus, the Center embraces the concept that we will only understand the function of cells, tissues, organs, organisms, and indeed the secrets of life itself, through an integrative global approach of simultaneously studying all of the parts, and by attempting to derive and test mathematical and computational descriptions and models/simulations of these systems. Such scientific efforts can only succeed in an environment of significant interdisciplinary collaboration, applying the principles of integrative discovery science.

3. Biological Information. The true revolution, now approaching us, lies in our capacity to rapidly acquire, decipher and manipulate and subsequently understand complex biological information. Biological information can be compartmentalized into three categories; i.e., that which is present in genes, that which is in the three dimensional structure of proteins and other macromolecules, and that which arises from the complex molecular interactions and networks of molecular interactions that differentiate "life" or biology from physics or chemistry. What is striking about these complex systems and networks are the appearance of so-called emergent properties. Emergent properties arise as a consequence of the interaction of many different fundamental units, and are more than the sum or average of the individual interactions. Consequently, emergent properties cannot be predicted a priori from the properties or values of the individual compositional units themselves. Studies of emergent properties arising from the complexity of life processes represent the new exciting paradigm for the biomedical scientist.

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Date last modified: 10/27/04
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