A major area of emphasis for the DBSV Branch is systems developmental biology because it offers an opportunity to provide a comprehensive understanding of embryonic development. The current generation of developmental biologists has largely focused on dissecting developmental phenomena into individual component parts and seeing what they do in isolation. These hypothesis-driven reductionist approaches have resulted in a wealth of detailed molecular-level descriptions of developmental phenomena. However, these successes have also taught us that development is exceptionally complex and that simple intuitive models of developmental processes are insufficient for comprehending this enormous complexity.
A more holistic approach to understanding embryonic development comes from the emergent field of systems developmental biology with the goal of assimilating many levels of genomic, biochemical, and biophysical information into computational models of developmental processes that are quantitative, predictive, and experimentally verifiable. Such network models for embryonic development offer the potential to link isolated molecular and mechanistic descriptions of developmental processes into a foundational framework allowing important causal relationships to be identified and predictively understood.
However, in many ways this systems biology approach represents a paradigm shift for developmental biology and birth defects research. To offer a more targeted review the Branch has issued a PAR (http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/pa-files/PAR-11-257.html) in order to encourage systems developmental biology research proposals.
Moreover systems biology has not generally been a part of standard developmental biology training programs. The Branch has therefore issued a PAR for predoctoral training grants in systems biology of developmental biology and birth defects (http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/pa-files/PAR-10-193.html) to facilitate training the leaders in this important and evolving field.
The Branch strongly believes that systems developmental biology is a field poised to make major advances in developmental biology because it offers a complement to the reductionist focus of contemporary developmental biology and provides a more comprehensive understanding of the causal relationships leading to normal and abnormal embryogenesis.