UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering
University of California San Diego

Palsson’s System: Calculating the Often Surprising Sum of a Cell’s Parts

Bernhard Palsson was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in February.

A photograph of a spider web spreads across the cover of Systems Biology: Properties of Reconstructed Networks ( Cambridge University Press, 2006). It is the first textbook devoted entirely to the emerging field of systems biology, and the author, bioengineering professor Bernhard Ø. Palsson, says the cover is a visual metaphor for the natural marvel of form and function.

"The web represents a highly functional biological network that is not limited by its obvious imperfections," says Palsson, who was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in February 2006. "It also conveys the sense that this new field of systems biology is focused on biology rather than computation."

The emergence of systems biology, which includes Palsson as one of its pioneers, was made possible in the late 1980s. It coincided with the development of high-throughput technologies to sequence entire genomes and determine which genes in the genome are activated, as well as bioinformatics tools required to make sense of the growing Everest of data. Systems biology is aimed at discovering how components that interact within a cell form networks, and how those networks generate whole cell functions.

In one of his most recently published papers, in the January 2006 issue of PLoS Computational Biology , Palsson reported that the location of genes and other features distributed along the chromosomes of bacteria and simpler organisms is fundamentally important to how the microbial cells operate. Says Palson, "This high degree of organization of prokaryotic [organisms that lack nuclei] genomes is a complete surprise, and this finding carries many implications that biologists might not have considered before."

Related Links
News Release: UCSD bioengineering professor elected to the National Academy of Engineering. 2/10/06
News Release: How E. coli Bacterium Generates Simplicity from Complexity
News Release: Patterns in Genome Organization May Partially Explain How Microbial Cells Work
Website: Bernhard Palsson's Systems Biology Research Group
In This Issue
Towards a $1,000 genome sequencing test
Genetic basis of human disease
Ericsson endowed chair awarded to Larry Milstein
Faculty Honors
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