Much of the biological investigation of the past can be described as a compilation and categorization of the list of parts, whether as the delineation of genomic sequences, genes, proteins, or species. The past decade for example has uncovered the genetic basis for many diseases. A remaining and larger challenge is to provide an understanding of how the interactions of these biological entities across spatial and temporal scales lead to observable behavior and function. This is what systems biology is concerned with. Two important organizing principles need emphasis: (1) An integrated understanding of systems requires mathematics and the development of theory, supplemented by simulations; and (2) Theory cannot be relevant if it is not driven and inspired by experimental data. Thus the development of system biology requires collaborative work by theoreticians and experimentalists.
The goal of systems physiology is to understand how various human organs and tissues are organized and regulated to produce their normal function and pathologies. This year at the MBI will examine features of several human organ and tissue systems, including the cardiac system, the respiratory system, the microcirculatory system, the renal system, the visual processing system, the endocrine system, and the auditory system. Although these are at first glance quite different, the underlying theme is how cellular level behavior participates in the function of the whole and how feedback from the function of the whole contributes to the regulation of the cellular level behavior. Understanding of these processes may lead to new insights into the causes of diseases and how they can be treated.