The Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth has nucleated a Department of Molecular and Systems Biology that is poised to exploit and contribute to the explosive growth in information and its application to solving problems in biological systems. The department is piloted by salient and similarly minded research faculty with expertise in genetics, physiology, cancer biology, neuroscience, and pharmacology. This is this new Department of Molecular and Systems Biology.
Molecular and Systems Biology is at once both descriptive and aspirational. Systems Biology is a field sufficiently new that even the culture of systems approaches to biology is not mature, but rather continues to evolve; it represents a major new frontier, but is well represented within the science of the new department. Systems Biology may be distinguished from “systematic biology” which might be likened to gathering of large data sets and making correlations. In addition to such bioinformatics and computationally-intense analyses, Systems Biology also always incorporates a wet-bench experimental component to test, further refine, and iteratively to re-develop hypotheses. Although not all members of MSB incorporate all aspects of this systems biology approach into their ongoing research programs, all utilize molecular biological tools, are integrative in their embrace of multiple tools to answer complex questions in physiology, genetics and medicine, and all are comfortable with evolution in this direction while embracing existing strengths in neuroscience, physiology, cancer biology, and genetics.
Discrete multi-faculty foci within the department include the fusion of behavioral genetics with neuroscience, of genetics, molecular biology, and proteomics with cancer biology, of molecular and systems biology with translational medicine, and of genetics and circadian biology with systems physiology.
In medicine, it has only been in the final quarter of the last century that the magnitude of the contribution of our genes to our well-being has begun to be appreciated, and that the fusion of bottom-up genetic approaches could be merged with top-down physiological approaches to solve fundamental complex questions; this is the essence of Systems Biology. The scope of the contribution that Systems Biology will play in terms of understanding, diagnosing and treating disease in the 21st century is comparable to that of physiology and biochemistry in the 20th century. However, while the dissection of complex phenomena requires prospective analysis, the maturation of data-driven medicine and of Precision Medicine has driven the need for retrospective science – beginning from a variant phenotype (whether metabolic or behavioral) and using genetic and physiological tools precepts to analyze and understand the cellular and molecular basis of the variation. Thus will such challenging problems as behavior (whether variant or normal) and cognition be addressed. Do we propose to do this all at Dartmouth? No, but we do propose to make major contributions to creating new methodologies and to solving significant problems. We are at the beginning of the Golden Age of Biology, and Dartmouth has a role to play in the drama.
The central mission of the Department of Molecular and Systems Biology is research excellence. We seek to build this department through the identification and recruitment of junior and established scientists – students, postdoctoral fellows, staff, and faculty – who can embrace a new Systems Biology way of thinking, and who share with us the excitement with and commitment to approaching biological problems using varied tools and disciplines. We seek colleagues who use such approaches now and will continue to use them in the future. From this base, true excellence will emerge from the dynamics of the group of faculty and students that will call this their home department.