UK Nonlinear News, May 2001

Modelling Cell Systems: The Post-Genomic Challenge

Centre for Mathematics and Physics in the Life Sciences and Experimental Biology (CoMPLEX), UCL, 15-16 February 2001

By Stephen Baigent

Barely a week after the announcement of the first complete draft of the human genome sequence, scientists from wide-ranging disciplines assembled at UCL for two days of invited talks describing the latest mathematical and computational techniques for modelling cell systems.

The meeting was a joint venture between CoMPLEX, UCL's centre promoting interdisciplinary science, and the UK CytoCom Network, funded under the EPSRC's Emerging Computing Programme and aimed at the cross-disciplinary exchange of ideas between Biologists, Computer Scientists and Mathematicians. Originally, the workshop was conceived as a local gathering of 50 or so UK scientists. In the event, however, we generated a great deal of interest, attracting well over 100 participants, with some travelling from France, Germany and even the USA.

The broad objective was to present to specialists and non-specialists alike some of the existing and emerging techniques for modelling complex cell systems, and to try and place them within the new data-rich, post-genomic context. The workshop therefore focused less on the mining of useful information from the vast quantities of data being generated by sequencing or microarray technologies, and more on how such information can be utilised to build new and increasingly detailed models of cell systems. In the spirit of the interdisciplinary approach central to post-genome science, talks were aimed at the non-specialist, and the mathematics kept as elementary as possible.

Over the two days, the 17 invited speakers covered a broad spectrum of mathematical methods, modelling studies, and computational approaches. Tutorials were given on mathematical methods emerging as important cell modelling tools, such as systems theory, time series analysis, and category theory. The models discussed ranged from statistical models for cell signaling to metabolic, genetic and protein regulatory networks. And on the computational side, a diverse range of talks encompassed large-scale ode models integrating multiple cell processes, neural networks applied to protein domain evolution, and applications of finite state machines to cell biology.

The positive response to this workshop reflects the growing demand for inter-disciplinary meetings pitched at experimentalists and theoreticians from diverse backgrounds working in, or perhaps entering, the field of post-genome science. Feedback from attendees also confirmed that, apart from meetings targeting current research, there is also a need for summer school style courses providing basic level tuition on many of the mathematical and computational methods emerging as standard tools in post-genome cell science. Future CoMPLEX workshops will continue to address these and other issues.

Some of the key ideas discussed at the workshop will appear in a forthcoming theme issue of Briefings in Bioinformatics published by Henry Stewart Publications. For more details of the meeting, including a complete set of talk abstracts and related hypertext links, please access the website

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