Tag: systems

  • MRC, e-science, ABPI and partnerships

    Uncategorized | Douglas Kell

    The first external meeting of the week was to fulfil, with Director of Science Prof Melanie Welham,  an invitation to discuss areas of mutual scientific interest with the Strategy Board of the Medical Research Council. These included bioinformatics and e-science, systems and synthetic biology, nutrition and health, vaccinology and antimicrobials, all areas where our communities have complementary strengths and where we might well seek to develop some joint initiatives. [...]

  • Systems medicine, polyomics and funding interdisciplinary science

    Uncategorized | Douglas Kell

    Last week, in between multiple internal meetings in Swindon, I gave talks (or more accurately a rather similar talk twice…) at two events. The first was a very interesting conference on systems medicine, arranged by Systems Biology Ireland. Certainly the part that I was able to attend was very wide ranging, including detailed models of metabolic and signalling networks that greatly aided the discovery of new diagnostics and therapies, and some very interesting advances in stem cells and how they might be targeted to damaged tissues. There was also a very interesting Panel discussion, as well as a great opportunity to hear of progress from Rudi Balling at the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine. It was clear that at least this audience had entirely ‘got’ the systems medicine agenda, and that the subject was making rapid progress on multiple fronts. [...]

  • Carbon, metabolism and management

    Uncategorized | Douglas Kell

    Since I had almost no external visits in last week’s Bank Holiday-truncated schedule – although I did have one of my regular 1:1 meetings with Sir Mark Walport of the Wellcome Trust – I shall ruminate a little on the relationships between biochemistry and management. This is partly, of course, because both involve an understanding of systems and how they adapt to external inputs, a rather nice example from this perspective (IMHO) being an analysis that I have just co-authored. As I have remarked before, biological systems have tended to select for robustness over immediate efficiency; one way that this can achieved is via a substantial elasticity of individual biochemical steps to changes in inputs. In the study cited, we looked at the rather extensive changes in gene expression and metabolism consequent upon a pulsed change in nutrient status. Some, such as changes in inosine metabolism, were rather striking and not necessarily expected, which is why it is best not to start with hypotheses for this kind of experiment. [...]

  • Systems microscopy, Rothamsted, Wales, banking and bioenergy

    Uncategorized | Douglas Kell

    My first appointment last week was to give the welcoming address at the opening of the Systems Microscopy Centre in Manchester, led by Mike White. The Department of Bioenergy and Climate Change published its Bioenergy Strategy, noting that indeed bioenergy  is expected to play a key role in our ability to meet the 2020 renewables target as well as longer term carbon reduction targets to 2030 and 2050. It is also a response to the Committee on Climate Change’s Bioenergy Review.  The timing chimed with the announcement of a new grant on Miscanthus breeding, that was also mentioned in the Prime Minister’s speech on the Green Economy. We also had a very useful meeting of the members of Rothamsted Research.

    I attended a very interesting meeting of the Foundation for Science and Technology, on “Reducing the risk of a systemic failure of the banking system” (or ‘yet another’ failure, one might say). The speakers included John Kay, who provided a very thoughtful insight on some aspects that insiders got wrong, and Andy Haldane, whose wonderful paper with Lord May I blogged about before. I would like to conclude that I was reassured, but there is a distance between the perceived remedies (some of which – like requiring banks only to trade at levels that are backed by real assets – seem and are rather obvious) and their application. There was however general agreement about the need to separate investment (‘casino’) banking from retail banking, and the need for simplicity, a loose coupling of subsystems, and proper incentivisation. Certainly we need to get ourselves a financial system (‘responsible capitalism’) that provides for the creation of value and not just the simple transfer of money (real and imaginary) from the majority of taxpayers to others who are seemingly out of the control of the public and the public good. [...]

  • Institutes, systems and evolution

    Uncategorized | Douglas Kell

    We usually think of evolution in terms of biological organisms, but systems and organisations are also subject to evolutionary change, based at least in part on natural selection. This is not a novel thought (albeit one could debate extensively the ‘unit of selection’ – in biology it is not the gene, and the concept is probably redundant) and one I mentioned in last week’s blog with regard to financial systems. Indeed, this week included an interesting half hour on Radio 4 based around the Haldane and May paper referenced therein.

    Last week we had a very valuable meeting with the Chairs of our Institute Governing Bodies. The Chairs have an enormously important (formal and real) role in developing the performance of our Institutes, and this meeting provided an excellent opportunity to explore important general issues for which collective concerns and best practice solutions could be shared. Not least in the modern world, the complex and nonlinear dynamics can move very quickly (any inspection of the national and international news tells one that), and we have purposely arranged a follow-up meeting in the near future. [...]