These are the sorts of complicated questions scientists from around the world will come to Melbourne in 2014 to discuss at the 15th International Conference on Systems Biology (ICSB 2014). Systems biology uses all the tools of the biological and computer science revolutions to look at whole plants and animals. Over the next decade it is set to transform biology.
The awarding of the conference to Melbourne was announced on Tuesday 13 March by EMBL Australia chair Prof Richard Larkins and visiting Japanese systems biology pioneer Prof Hiroaki Kitano. EMBL Australia is Australia’s gateway to EMBL – the European Molecular Biology Laboratory.
Holding the conference in Australia will help drive further collaboration between Australian laboratories and researchers in Asia, Europe and America, said Prof Kitano, who is the chair of the conference’s parent organisation, the International Society for Systems Biology, director of Japan’s Systems Biology Institute, and director of the Sony Computer Science Laboratories.
“Systems biology is a multidisciplinary science that tackles the big questions,” he said. “It can’t be done by just one person or one laboratory—it needs integration of data, knowledge, and various expertise from medical and biology experts to computer science and engineering experts.”
Profs Kitano and Larkins also signed a memorandum of understanding between their two institutes.
Instead of breaking cells, organs, genomes or whole organisms into their component parts, systems biology studies them as a whole. High powered computing is used to analyse the vast amounts of data. Whole organism and real-time imaging techniques are also fundamental. The methods of systems biology can even be used to study entire ecosystems.
“Systems biology is still a new approach so conferences like this one are invaluable in bringing together scientists to discuss the challenges and share new techniques and technologies,” said Prof Larkins. “We hope that our own scientists will learn a lot from the conference, and also bring some unique science to the table to share with our overseas colleagues.”
In Australia, examples of a systems biology approach include:
- Agricultural scientists using genomics and other technologies in an ambitious program that aims to investigate all pathogenic risks to Australian wheats.
- The Australian Wine Research Institute developing a predictive model that can accurately model how changes in the yeast genome affects alcohol content, flavour and other aspects of wine.
And in Japan, researchers are developing a novel approach for designing cancer-fighting drugs which simultaneously target more than one cancer-causing gene. It’s an approach which could help us fight the most persistent, robust tumours.
It is the first time that the conference is being held in the southern hemisphere, and follows recent successful meetings in Edinburgh, Scotland (2010) and Heidelberg-Mannheim, Germany (2011). This year’s conference is scheduled to be held in August in Toronto, Canada. The organisers expect about 750 scientists from Australia and overseas to attend the Melbourne conference.
“Hosting this important conference is a great honour for EMBL Australia as it reflects EMBL’s longstanding engagement in systems biology, and highlights Australia’s international standing in the life sciences research community,” said Prof Nadia Rosenthal, scientific head of EMBL Australia and chair of ICSB 2014.
“EMBL has a long term commitment to carrying out research in Systems Biology and providing databases to the SB community. I am therefore delighted that EMBL Australia will host this most prestigious meeting in the field in 2014,” said EMBL director general, Iain Mattaj.
Australia’s successful conference proposal was submitted by a consortium including EMBL Australia, BioPlatforms Australia and CSIRO and is supported by the Melbourne Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. The conference will be held at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre from 13-19 September, 2014.
For further information: Niall Byrne, Science in Public, 0417 131 977, firstname.lastname@example.org.