Current advances in systems and integrative biology
Robinson SW., Fernandes M., Husi H.
Systems biology has gained a tremendous amount of interest in the last few years. This is partly due to the realization that traditional approaches focusing only on a few molecules at a time cannot describe the impact of aberrant or modulated molecular environments across a whole system. Furthermore, a hypothesis-driven study aims to prove or disprove its postulations, whereas a hypothesis-free systems approach can yield an unbiased and novel testable hypothesis as an end-result. This latter approach foregoes assumptions which predict how a biological system should react to an altered microenvironment within a cellular context, across a tissue or impacting on distant organs. Additionally, re-use of existing data by systematic data mining and re-stratification, one of the cornerstones of integrative systems biology, is also gaining attention. While tremendous efforts using a systems methodology have already yielded excellent results, it is apparent that a lack of suitable analytic tools and purpose-built databases poses a major bottleneck in applying a systematic workflow. This review addresses the current approaches used in systems analysis and obstacles often encountered in large-scale data analysis and integration which tend to go unnoticed, but have a direct impact on the final outcome of a systems approach. Its wide applicability, ranging from basic research, disease descriptors, pharmacological studies, to personalized medicine, makes this emerging approach well suited to address biological and medical questions where conventional methods are not ideal.