During the summer, the VPH community has been actively involved in open discussions with representatives of other scientific domains towards the common goal of developing a multi-scale systems biology. The IUPS Congress and, in particular, the satellite meeting organized by ICSU offered a perfect scenario for these debates.
The 37th Congress of the International Union of Physiological Sciences (IUPS) was held in Birmingham, UK, on 21-26 July. The conference programme included a number of talks relating to the VPH/Physiome – the opening plenary lecture entitled ‘Physiology moves back onto centre stage: a new synthesis with evolutionary biology’ by the IUPS President, Denis Noble (also President of the VPH Institute), a symposium on ‘New advances in the Physiome and systems biology’ organised by Andrew McCulloch and Chae Hun Leem, and a keynote lecture by Peter Hunter on ‘An overview of Physiome activities’.
IUPS is a member of the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU), which comprises 27 unions covering all areas of science (www.icsu.org). Nine of these, the ‘bio-unions’, embrace physiology (IUPS), biochemistry and molecular biology (IUBMB), micro-biology (IUMS), immunology (IUIS), evolution and ecology (IUBS), nutrition (IUNS), food science and technology (IUFoST), brain research (IBRO) and the physical and engineering sciences in medicine (IUPESM). All nine, together with the Company of Biologists and ICSU itself, contributed to the staging of the first ever comprehensive bio-unions meeting on July 28-29, immediately following the IUPS Congress, at the Royal Society’s Chicheley Hall to discuss their common interests in multi-scale systems biology.
The fact that there is one biology underpinning the scientific domains of all nine bio-unions and the realisation that multi-scale systems biology is needed as the common framework for understanding complex phenotype was the unifying theme of the Chicheley Hall workshop. However, many other synergies were discussed: the interaction of ecology and evolution; the importance for physiology in understanding forms of inheritance via both the genome and transmitted epigenetic markers in the egg and sperm; the influence of nutrition and the micro-biological environment of the digestive system in understanding physiological state; and the need for more engagement with neuroscientists in the study of the body’s physiological systems; the role of ‘big science’, exemplified by the €50M German Government funded Virtual Liver Network; and, finally but not least, the role of the physical and engineering sciences in providing both new instrumentation for reductive, mechanism-focussed, experimental science and the multi-scale and multi-physics integrative modelling frameworks with their associated databases and software tools.