Reviews of Physiology Biochemistry and Pharmacology

Volume 157 of the series Reviews of Physiology Biochemistry and Pharmacology pp 81-104


Dimensions of systems biology

  • S. HuangAffiliated withDepartment of Surgery and Vascular Biology Program, Harvard Medical School Email author 
  • , J. WikswoAffiliated withVanderbilt Institute for Integrative Biosystems Research and Education, Departments of Biomedical Engineering, Molecular Physiology & Biophysics and Physics & Astronomy, Vanderbilt University

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Systems biology, possibly the latest sub-discipline of biology, has arisen as a result of the shockwave of genomic and proteomic data that has appeared in the past few years. However, despite ubiquitous initiatives that carry this label, there is no precise definition of systems biology other than the implication of a new, all-encompassing, multidisciplinary endeavor. Here we propose that systems biology is more than the integration of biology with methods of the physical and computational sciences, and also more than the expansion of the single-pathway approach to embracing genome-scale networks. It is the discipline that specifically addresses the fundamental properties of the complexity that living systems represent. To facilitate the discussion, we dissect and project the multifaceted systems complexity of living organisms into five dimensions: (1) molecular complexity; (2) structural complexity; (3) temporal complexity; (4) abstraction and emergence; and (5) algorithmic complexity. This “five-dimensional space” may provide a framework for comparing, classifying, and complementing the vast diversity of existing systems biology programs and their goals, and will also give a glimpse of the magnitude of the scientific problems associated with unraveling the ultimate mysteries of life.