Acta Biotheoretica 58 (1):15-49 (2009)
AbstractThe comprehension of living organisms in all their complexity poses a major challenge to the biological sciences. Recently, systems biology has been proposed as a new candidate in the development of such a comprehension. The main objective of this paper is to address what systems biology is and how it is practised. To this end, the basic tools of a systems biological approach are explored and illustrated. In addition, it is questioned whether systems biology ‘revolutionizes’ molecular biology and ‘transcends’ its assumed reductionism. The strength of this claim appears to depend on how molecular and systems biology are characterised and on how reductionism is interpreted. Doing credit to molecular biology and to methodological reductionism, it is argued that the distinction between molecular and systems biology is gradual rather than sharp. As such, the classical challenge in biology to manage, interpret and integrate biological data into functional wholes is further intensified by systems biology’s use of modelling and bioinformatics, and by its scale enlargement.
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