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Systems approaches to the biosciences


This priority falls under the enabling theme 'Exploiting New Ways of Working'.

World-class bioscience is critically dependent on new technologies, methodologies and resources. This theme aims to encourage research that will yield the next-generation of these 'new ways of working'. Projects should focus on underpinning and enabling one of our strategic research priorities (food security, industrial biotechnology, bioscience underpinning health) or have potential, generic utility across one or more broad areas of the biosciences.


The priority aims to encourage the application of systems biology approaches across BBSRC's research portfolio.

Scientific scope

Systems biology is an approach by which biological questions are addressed through integrating data collection activities with computational/ mathematical modelling activities to produce a better understanding of biological systems (or sub-systems).

Methods for integrating data into models should be relevant to the system under investigation but may include a combination of mathematical, statistical and computational modelling, visualisation tools and network inference. Models should capture complex biological behaviour by integrating the necessary components and interactions and thereby simulate the biological system in a way that enables useful predictions to be made. Systems approaches are most relevant when there is a clear biological endpoint. Model development and validation should proceed iteratively, using relevant data to improve the knowledge of the system.

We are particularly interested in encouraging the development and adoption of systems approaches at multiple scales and using multiple approaches, with the ultimate goal being to generate 'digital organisms'. A digital organism represents all biological processes, pathways and interactions, within a specified organism in the form of mathematical or computational models underpinned by quantitative data. Such tools will enable realistic predictions of behaviour to be modelled across levels of biological hierarchy (macromolecule, cell, tissue, organ, organism). Initially models could be developed to describe an organism's disparate biological properties and functions; however models would need to be able to be integrated with each other in order to provide a more holistic and mechanistic understanding of the organism. The ultimate goal is for models to be able to account for all biological functions experienced by the organism.

Grant proposals utilising systems approaches can feature any part of our remit, but would be particularly welcome if they support one or more of our strategic priorities (ref 1).


It is expected that proposals will require strong multidisciplinary partnerships between bioscientists and researchers in the physical sciences, engineering and information technology disciplines.

Tools and technology platforms for systems biology are also relevant to this priority. Proposals should ensure that they are designed as much as possible/practical with the end users in mind.

Data sharing

Proposals should comply with our data sharing policy (see related links). Models generated using systems approaches are highlighted within the policy as one of three areas in which there is a particularly strong scientific case for data sharing.

Proposals developing informatics tools should make such tools available to the wider user and developer community with as few restrictions as possible, ideally using open source best practices (e.g. Creative Commons or Open Source Initiative recommended licences). However, we recognise that, at times, the creators' intellectual property rights may need to be protected before any sharing takes place, and this is encouraged where appropriate beforehand. Such protection should not unduly delay the release of any data/tools arising from BBSRC funding.


It is expected that proposals will provide tools and resources of potential application to broad communities in the biosciences.


  1. These strategic priorities are identified in our Strategic Plan 'The Age of Bioscience' and are: 'Agriculture and food security', 'Industrial biotechnology and bioenergy', and 'Bioscience for health'.