Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School

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Fontana Laboratory


  Welcome.


Our Lab spans experimental (e) and theoretical (t) approaches in a desire to address fundamental problems in systems biology:

the integration of information — the disintegration of information —
aging (e)
the evolution of information —

We broadly view systems biology as a pursuit of twin goals:

  • Understanding the dynamical processes that define biological organization in terms of interactions among molecular components, and
  • Identifying those properties of a biological system that are necessary consequences of a particular level of organization.

The first goal represents a more traditional approach that seeks to identify and characterize biologically relevant descriptions of molecular organization. The second goal is inspired by evolutionary thinking and seeks to identify formal principles specific to biological organization that enable us to understand what is possible in any history of life.

The challenge of systems biology is not only experimental. It also is the challenge of inventing new styles of models that can cope with complexity and with rapidly evolving facts scattered across research communities. Computer science will contribute a necessary conceptual foundation, independent of physics and chemistry, to the future definition of the biological sciences.

The members and collaborators of our Lab come from diverse backgrounds, such as molecular biology and genetics, mathematics, computational biology, physics, chemistry, engineering, and computer science. In this diversity we establish what science historian Peter Galison has called a "trading zone", in which we "exchange fish for baskets, enforc[e] subtle equations of correspondence between quantity, quality, and type, and yet utterly disagree on the broader [...] significance of the items exchanged".