The Cecil H. and Ida Green Center for Systems Biology was created in 2004 by a generous gift from the Cecil H. and Ida Green Foundation. Currently the Center has five tenure track faculty, and is the home of 47 researchers.
Work in biology over the past several decades has mainly focused on defining the parts list that make up cells, tissues and organisms, and on understanding how all these individual components operate. Perhaps the ultimate expression of this work is the completion of the sequence of the human genome—the deduction of the set of instructions in our DNA (the genes) that code for each of the components (proteins) that make up our cells and tissues. Much has been learned from this work, but we are left with a sense of deep unexplained complexity in the basic design of living systems.
For example, the human genome is made up of some 30,000 genes but it remains a mystery how even basic characteristics of normal physiology and disease emerge from this collection of elementary parts. We don’t yet understand what makes each individual distinct, and we cannot easily predict responses to therapeutic agents or offer clear guidance for individually optimizing health. We don’t understand what makes a cancer cell behave differently from normal cells or the nature of slow variations that lead to disease onset and progression.
Indeed, it is currently the case that we cannot even explain the behaviors of simple unicellular life forms such as bacteria and fungi despite complete knowledge of their genome sequences and the nearly exhaustive study of each of their proteins and other components. Cracking this problem – the functional decoding of the genome – is perhaps the major next challenge in biology and biomedical research.
What lies at the heart of solving this problem? The nature of the problem is clear: the properties of living systems arise from complex interactions between parts that make them up, and not just from behaviors of the parts taken individually. Much in the same way that electrical circuits can have properties (like amplification or memory storage) that cannot be explained by behaviors of the underlying parts, the properties of cells and tissues are not easy to understand from even deep knowledge of their components.
The Center aims to discover and understand a “circuit theory” for biology—a set of powerful and predictive principles that tell us how networks of biological components are wired up and achieve complex functionalities. It is the basic mission of the Green Center for Systems Biology to discover and understand these principles.
We expect that this knowledge will be critical for understanding and altering the function of cells, tissues, ad organisms, for understanding disease, and for explaining how these systems are built from the instructions contained in their genome sequences. As a Center we are committed to provide not only excellent research, but also to train the next generation of scientists fostering an environment of mentorship and collaboration.
UT Southwestern is giving the Center the optimal setting to conduct, analyze and share our research, so it can be applied to modern medical applications.