Joint Italian-Spanish Laboratory on Complex Biological Networks

To understand with a larger perspective the activities of CTB in the Systems Biology Area we present a new laboratory that complements the objectives of the two previous laboratories above. From June, the 3rd, 2013, CTB hosts the Spanish team of the Joint Italian-Spanish Laboratory on Complex Biological Networks. The Italian counterpart is the Istituto dei Sistemi Complessi (ISC) of the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR)[1], located in Rome, Italy. The Laboratory is established under the patronage of the Italian Embassy in Spain.

ISC-CNR and UPM-CTB share the desire of concretely strengthening the overall level and amount of bi-national collaboration in science and technology between Italy and Spain, as a core for stimulating scientific and technological cooperation inside Europe.

ISC-CNR and CTB-UPM have agreed to share part of the time of their staff, as well as part of their facilities and equipment for carrying out, in a permanent collaboration, some scientific and technological activities. The directorship and coordination of the Laboratory activities has been assigned to Dr. Stefano Boccaletti the former director of the Computational System Biology Laboratory (UPM-BBVA).

Scientific Objectives of this joint lab are: Understanding and predicting how complete biological systems are able to perform computational and information processing tasks in a cooperative manner have been, and still remain, amongst the fundamental challenges in modern scientific research. The overwhelming magnitude of these challenges stems from two major issues: the daunting number of different building blocks involved (i.e. genes, proteins, enzymes in cells, or the thousands of millions of neurons in the brain) and the complex way by which they interplay to function together and in coordination among them. It is evident, furthermore, that the only possibility of facing this challenge is by means of a simultaneous research effort from the side of elaborate computational modeling, numerical predictions, analytical and statistical testing, and experimental verification processes. Three lines are identified a priori, which basically continues those of the running labs.

Line 1:  the computational and analytical approach. The last 15 years have witnessed the birth of a new movement of interest and research within the study of complex networks, i.e. networks whose structure is irregular, complex and dynamically evolving in time, with the main focus moving from the analysis of small networks to that of systems with thousands or millions of nodes, and with a renewed attention to the properties of networks of dynamical units in view of their coordination for global computation and information processes. With a main idea derived from the observation of a series of unifying principles and statistical properties common to most of the real networks. The proposed joint research line will focus on the effort of comprehensively describe networked systems, their relevant scales and interplays, and to unveil the mechanisms at the origin of information processing in biological systems.

Line 2: the experimental study of cultured neural networks. The joint Laboratory will fully take advantage of two CTB-UPM facilities created during the last two years: the Laboratory of electronic circuits, and that on cultured neural networks. To tackle a series of major issues involved in biological networks’ organization, as e.g.: Network topology, Local perturbations, Long-term stability, Precise positioning, High-fidelity of the formed network.

Line 3: analysis, recording and evaluation of biological datasets. A systematic approach to the analysis, recording and evaluation of data from different sources. In particular, it is intention of the two institutions to establish a series of collaborations with Hospitals and Health research centres worldwide on specific issues related to neurological diseases, as well as on genetic expressions (including plants with laboratories of the Centre for Biotechnology and Plant Genomics of our Monetgancedo Campus), and other related biological datasets. This line will allow devising novel tools, and methods, for applications to nonlinear analysis of networked systems, which will be of relevance also outside bioscience.

[1] CNR is the largest and major Italian public research institution. Under the funding of the Italian Ministry of Education and Science, CNR organizes and coordinates (with full scientific, financial, organizational, and patrimonial autonomy) the activities of more than 100 Institutes across the entire national territory, and of more than 6000 Italian scientists that are worldwide leaders in areas as diverse as exact sciences, medicine, earth sciences, and humanities. CNR counted historically on prominent figures of the Italian scientific community, and on various Nobel Prizes Laureates. CNR’s primary mission is to promote excellence in research in fundamental and applied science, and to contribute to strengthen the visibility and internationalization of the Italian research system. CNR has specifically promoted on 2004 the constitution of the Institute of Complex Systems (ISC), which is actually comprehensive of 4 territorial Units (one of them in Florence, ISC-F). Despite of its relatively young age, ISC has already received a worldwide recognition and appreciation for its forefront research in the study of complex systems, and their interdisciplinary applications in physics, chemistry, biology and information theory.

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