Wolkenhauer, O. and Mesarovic, M. and Wellstead, P.
A Plea for More Theory in Molecular Biology.
Systems Biology - Applications and Perspectives.
The integrationist principles of systems theory have proven hugely
successful in the physical sciences and engineering. It is an underlying assumption
made in the systems approach to biology that they can also be used to
understand biological phenomena at the level of an entire organism or organ.
Within this holistic vision, the vastmajority of systems biology research projects
investigate phenomena at the level of the cell, with the belief that unifying principles
established at the most basic level can establish a framework within which
we may understand phenomena at higher levels of organization. In this spirit,
and to use a celestial analogy, if a disease effecting an organ or entire body is
our universe of discourse, then the cell is the star we gaze at. In building an
understanding of disease and the effect of drugs, systems biology makes an
implicit assumption about direct causal entailment between cell function and
physiology. A skeptic might argue that this is about the same as trying to predict
the world economy from observations made at a local supermarket. However,
assuming for the moment that the money and hope we are investing inmolecular
biology, genomics, and systems biology is justified, how should this amazing
118 O. Wolkenhauer, M. MesaroviÂ´c, P. Wellstead
intellectual achievement be possible? In this chapter we argue that an essential
tool to progress is a systems theory that allows biological objects and their operational
characteristics to be captured in a succinct yet general form. Armed
with this conceptual framework, we construct mathematical representations of
standard cellular and intercellular functions which can be integrated to describe
more general processes of cell complexes, and potentially entire organ.
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