Systems Biology to study cell-surface interactions
Author: María Suárez Diez, from Wageningen University & Research (WUR)
Life is a complex phenomenon.
We could study each and every part of a living being and still not understand what life is. Life is the result of the complex interaction between all molecules that form an organism and are invisible to our naked eye. Still it is much more than the sum of the parts.
In Systems Biology we work to understand living systems, how they change over time and how they respond to the environment. We combine measurements of the building blocks of life such as DNA, RNA, proteins and small chemical molecules in the organism to build a representation based on mathematical equations. Basically, we try to describe everything that happens in an organism with numbers. Once we have everything in numbers we can start changing them to see what could happen in the organism in real life. This process is called mathematical modelling.
One example in which we use mathematical modelling is studying how microbes react to the changing environment in which they live. Microbes dramatically modify their lifestyle when they grow in a liquid or when they grow attached to a surface. When growing on a surface they often establish biofilms, which are resistant layers of microbes cause union makes strength.
These mathematical models can then be used to design interventions to either disrupt or promote biofilm formation. For instance, in biomedicine we often want to prevent biofilms and models can suggest the most effective way of administering antibiotics. On the other hand, in biotechnology we might want to promote biofilms and the models can suggest surface characteristics and compounds to be added to accelerate the process.
In the SurfBio project at Wageningen University we are working to bring systems biology approaches to the wide community of scientists that want to apply these methods to the study of cell-surface interactions.