April 2011

Special Symposium: Chemical, synthetic and systems biology: new directions of biochemistry in the 21st century

Second special symposium on systems biology will explore the connections between the three areas of modern biochemistry.

Arcady Mushegian Aled Edwards


In October 2009, about 60 scientists attended an American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology special symposium titled “Systems biology for biochemists” at Granlibakken resort in Lake Tahoe, Calif. The news article in the April 2009 issue of ASBMB Today read:

“[What biochemists and molecular biologists] wanted to know, and were not hearing from even hard-line systems biologists, were the important facts, or at least claims, about the molecular level of living systems that would emerge from the systems-level analysis.

“... some [complex] networks exist in a real sense: a signal can be sent from an Internet address to other addresses, and perhaps from some cells in metazoan neural system to some other cells. But is there any physical sense in, say, protein-protein interaction network? For example, can anything be sent or propagated across it? Another question has to do with the quality of the evidence: after the first round of claims that certain biological networks are ‘scale-free,’ or ‘small-world’ or ‘highly robust,’ we are now at the stage of much more careful analysis when many of these earlier conclusions are being refined and sometimes even refuted. Finally, there is ‘so what?’ factor. Much attention has been given to the global properties of biological networks, such as their node-degree distribution. However, even when we finally describe such properties with some accuracy, will they end up being important for understanding of life?”

By many accounts, that meeting was a success in that it combined the breadth of scope represented in the talks with a compact format and gave plenty of opportunity for participants to interact with each other. Yet the scientific questions explored during the first meeting still are not close to being solved. Moreover, other interrelated disciplines are now coming of age, such as chemical biology and synthetic biology. It is of great interest to biochemists to know what truly is new about these new areas of biology and also to understand the connections between these new areas and the wealth of scientific knowledge obtained in the past hundred years. Much like genomics can be viewed as a logical extension of genetics that allows us to utilize high-throughput technologies to see the gene ensembles as a system, we think these new biologies are the logical extensions of classical biochemistry and molecular biology for our era.

Chemical, synthetic and systems biology: new directions of biochemistry in the 21st century
Oct. 12 – Oct. 16, 2011
Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort, Snowbird, Utah
Short talk and poster abstract submission deadline: July 15, 2011
Early registration deadline: July 15, 2011

The advances in the three biologies and their scientific roots in mechanistic biochemistry will be explored in the ASBMB special symposium titled “Chemical, synthetic and systems biology: new directions for biochemistry in the 21st century.” The meeting will take place Oct. 12 to Oct. 16 at Snowbird Resort in the heart of the Wasatch-Cache National Forest, only 30 minutes from Salt Lake City International Airport.

The plenary session on the first evening will open with a talk by Luís A. Nunes Amaral from Northwestern University. Amaral is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Early Career Scientist and one of the most influential researchers working in complex systems today. Thematic morning sessions in the following three days will include presentations from established as well as young investigators. The presentations will be supplemented by shorter evening talks selected from the submitted abstracts and poster presentations. Women and underrepresented minorities, as well as graduate and undergraduate students, are strongly encouraged to submit abstracts.

Arcady Mushegian (arm@stowers.org) is director of bioinformatics research at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research and professor of microbiology at Kansas University Medical Center. Aled Edwards (aled.edwards@utoronto.ca) is Banbury Professor at the Banting and Best department of medical research at the University of Toronto.


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