Friday, March 6, 2009

I guess I'm a "systems biologist"

The term "systems biology" has always been one of the amorphous buzz word categories that could be applied to just about anything, in my mind. For the longest time, I had no sweet clue what it actually meant, never meant anyone who could succinctly define it or knew who would raise their hand if you yelled out at a meeting "WHO HERE IS A SYSTEMS BIOLOGIST?" Imagine my surprise then when I recently came to the realization that if you ask nine colleagues and none of them are systems biologists, the systems biologist in the room must be you... er me.

I can't figure out if I'm an idiot for not knowing the broad category that some of research can be classified as or if NSF pulled some ninja shit on me and threw a box over my head when I was looking the other way. Part of the problem is that much of what we do doesn't fit neatly into one category, but instead leaves a smear through a neat classification scheme like a slug in an immaculate garden. I've written a bit about the kinds of research done in my lab, but we more chase down questions using whatever (usually obscure) organism(s) we think will be most suitable. I guess that means we work with "systems", but I never meant to, I swear. Well, I guess it's good to know that I should stop rolling my eyes every time I see a systems biology conference ad.


  1. NSF pulled some ninja shit ....
    HAHAHAHAAH! You too?

    I don't really know what "systems biology" is either - I thought it was basic biology of the circulatory system, respiratory system, reproductive system etc in non-humans. bzzzzzz.... wrong, apparently.

  2. According to Wikipedia - the #1 authority on everything that most people don't care about:

    Systems biology is a biology-based inter-disciplinary study field that focuses on the systematic study of complex interactions in biological systems, thus using a new perspective (holism instead of reduction) to study them.

    i.e. You're a systems biologist when you point out the obvious in a way nobody else thought possible and everyone else wonders why they didn't think about it first.

  3. Well, I'm glad that it's "biology-based" study of "biological systems". Thanks for using the word in the definition Wikipedickwads! That's the problem - everyone's definition is circular. The current definition in my head is "a study of interactions (at whatever level) between organisms". But that pretty much covers anything from ecology to symbioses. NSF's definition is a little tighter, basically by what they limit their funding to in the IOS Division.

  4. lol, there's nothing on your blog to suggest you do systems biology. I'm affraid the fact that you think you might probably means you don't know what it is.


  5. Well, I try to limit the amount of information I post about what I do, but considering I have two grants pending with IOS, I sure as hell hope NSF thinks that's what I do.