1. ESRC Genomics Network (archive)
  2. Gengage
  3. The Human Genre Project

Egenis · Research

Knowledge integration in systems biology and synthetic biology

Sabina Leonelli

Start date


Affiliated staff

Orkun S. Soyer, John Dupré, Maureen A. O'Malley


Homepages: , Orkun Soyer, , Maureen O'Malley

Email: sabina leonelli

Funded by

ESRC (as part of Egenis)

EPSRC grant ‘Evolving Controllers and Controlling Evolution’.University of Exeter ‘Bridging the Gap' Research Knowledge Transfer grant ‘Respecting Complexity: New Methods and Concepts for a More Robust Synthetic Biology’ (co-Investigators: Sabina Leonelli, Ken Haynes and John Dupré).



This project analyses the interdisciplinary processes of integration and synthesis characterising cutting-edge research in systems biology and synthetic biology, particularly when these are engaged in making sense of large datasets. It comprises three main components.

  1. Part of the project is sponsored by the ESRC grant ‘Evolving Controllers and Controlling Evolution’ led by Orkun Soyer. This aims to investigate the relation between the notions of design and robustness in engineering and in evolutionary biology, with specific attention to how such insight could help research on synthetic biology. Biological systems, in particular cellular interaction networks, display complex dynamics and widely conserved structural features such as modularity and robustness. Many of the same features are found in engineered systems and networks across a range of industrial applications. Crucially, however, although the “end-results” may in certain respects look similar, the processes by which engineered and natural systems arrive at successful designs are very different – in engineering, modularity and robustness in a given system result from the use of formalised design processes (systems and control engineering); in biology, from the process of evolution. Among the questions the project hopes to address, the prominent one is: Are there evolutionary principles that can be used for designing better engineering systems? Sabina Leonelli and Maureen O’Malley (University of Sydney) will work together with Orkun Soyer, Özgür Akman and Declan Bates to investigate conceptual and methodological issues emerging during this project. 
  2. A second component of the project investigates modelling practices and types of models used to carry out research in synthetic biology. This is sponsored by the Bridging the Gaps grant ‘Respecting Complexity: New Methods and Concepts for a More Robust Synthetic Biology’, and will culminate in an international conference on this theme to be organised in 2013 by Sabina Leonelli, Ken Haynes and John Dupré.
  3. Finally, a third component of this project relates to Sabina Leonelli's project on 'Data-driven research', which investigates in detail how different types of large datasets are being integrated through computational and bioinformatic tools, and the role played by bio-ontologies in this process. Some of the results of this part of the project will be presented at a conference on 'Integration in Biology and Biomedicine' organised by Maureen O'Malley, Paul Griffriths and Karola Stotz in Sydney, May 2012.