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Bioinformatics and Systems Biology – Bridging the Divide
Aim of the workshop
This workshop brought together leading researchers from the fields of systems biology and (integrative) bioinformatics. Both fields have a common goal, namely to obtain detailed descriptions of biological systems and their relationship to observed phenotypes. However, they are limited to either detailed models of small systems (systems biology) or highly descriptive models of larger systems (integrative bioinformatics). Therefore, currently the main challenge is to develop ways to combine techniques from both domains in order to obtain quantitative models at a genome-wide scale for complex organisms such as human. The aim of this workshop was to identify general principles for successfully integrating systems biology models and more descriptive bioinformatics models to enhance the accuracy and completeness of the overall model.
Throughout the meeting, extensive notes were taken of the talks and discussions, as input for a white paper that will become a tangible outcome of the workshop.
Scientific breakthroughs and ‘Aha’ moments
It was very interesting to notice that during the workshop, we more and more started to agree that maybe the problem is not a single ‘big’ divide between bioinformatics and systems biology. Instead, there are multiple ‘smaller’ divides, for example between modelling systems with a small or a large number of components, between modelling unicellular or multicellular organisms, and between the scale on which modeling takes place in a multicellular organism (gene, molecule, cell, tissue, organism). This realization led to a more focused discussion during the course of workshop. An important outcome was that a reasonable way to (start to) bridge these different divides is (i) to organize labs differently and include both experimentalists and computational scientists, (ii) to also closely collaborate with specialized computational groups that can focus on method development, (iii) to train biologists in such a way that they can at least easily communicate with quantitative scientists. Another interesting development in the workshop was to see that people more and more understand the importance of better describing existing models and making models more modular in order to be able to combine them.
Organization/format of the workshop
In this workshop, talks and plenary discussion on each day were centered on a particular theme. There were not too many formal talks planned. The workshop was also truly multidisciplinary and brought together bioinformaticians, mathematical modellers, molecular biologists, and (algorithmic) computer scientists. This worked very well and led to a lively workshop with much discussion and interaction between participants. On the final day the participants engaged in small group discussions, where they would like the field to be in 20 years from now. This led to a lot of concrete input for the white paper we are writing.