Keynote Presentation: Academic Perspectives

author: Leroy Hood, Institute for Systems Biology
published: Feb. 4, 2013,   recorded: January 2004,   views: 2447

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Very simply stated, systems biology attempts to “capture the dynamic nature of living systems.” To accomplish this, says Hood, you “have to bring together the flavors of biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering and physics,” among others. It’s a vast area to tackle. But with tools like the internet and digital DNA and protein sequencers on hand, it’s now possible to perform research aimed at unraveling the complex interaction of genes and environment in simple organisms.

Hood describes knocking out yeast cell genes, and turning off the machinery that metabolizes simple sugars. This sort of microscopic tampering allows scientists to build models of increasing complexity. A blueprint of gene regulation in sea urchins helped one scientist figure out a way to redesign the organism with two guts. But the ultimate prize is a deep understanding of human biology. Hood foresees a database—built with the help of nanotechnology — that categorizes and quantifies all proteins in the human genome. Scientists will be able to predict disease by detecting defective genes in blood samples, and then manipulate the genes to prevent the disease. “The integration of biology and medicine,” says Hood, “is where the rubber meets the road.”

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