Modeling Life: The Choreography of Systems Biology as a Scientific/Intellectual Movement

3 Feb 2017
4:00 pm - 5:30 pm

470 Stephens Hall

Event Type

Dr. Niki Vermeulen
Lecturer in History/ Sociology of Science, Wellcome Research Fellow, The University of Edinburgh

Since 2000 systems biology has emerged as a new field in the life sciences, claiming to revolutionise biology and medicine. While the Human Genome Project and subsequent reductionist –omics approaches produce masses of data on key molecules in living cells, systems biology aims to shift towards a more holistic mind-set, focussing on interactions to discover life’s universal principles and laws. The integration of data in mathematical models of life currently targets single-cell organisms, such as yeast- and human organs, including heart and liver. Ultimately, it is envisioned to lead to the creation of a virtual human, while advancing systems medicine by making healthcare personalised, predictive, preventive, and participatory (P4 medicine).

In this paper I reflect on the ways in which we can understand the rise of systems biology. Building on work by Frickel and Gross (2005) I argue that systems biology can be seen as a Social Intellectual Movement, which brings researchers from different disciplines and countries together. I show how the choreography of systems biology is constituted through three interrelated spatial movements: aggregation, circulation and oscillation. They detail how some strong, dispersed, local centers have effectively raised funds to build human capacity, organisations and infrastructures, while creating international networks. Through interaction with science policy makers, a global circulation of policies took place. As such, systems biology became a fashion in science policy (Rip, 1998), resulting in the building of collaborative centers for systems biology. However, while the short-term dynamics of contemporary research funding allowed systems biology to become big in a relatively quick time, now science policy and funding are moving to the next frontier leaving the future of systems biology hanging in the balance.

This event is sponsored by CSTMS.
Additional sponsorship comes from:  CSTMS

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