As the human genome project continues to role forward, one of the concepts that has emerged is complexity. Scientists including biologists have appreciated for some time that genetic networks underlie development and response. The cell differentiations of development and responses to stimuli require and ever changing cast of proteins. The instructions for the protein sequences are encoded within the genome. If we could understand how the cast of proteins made up the mechanical parts we would be considerably further along. The parts list is long and complex, but as the genome project began to uncover the instructions for how the “parts” are made there was a feeling that science may be able to build models that describe function and disease.
The 2010 Nature article describes this aspiration:
The hope was that by cataloguing all the interactions in the p53 network, or in a cell, or between a group of cells, then plugging them into a computational model, biologists would glean insights about how biological systems behaved
And indeed this did (and still does) seem like a reasonable approach. Biological networks have turned out to be as complex as we could have hoped. Systems biology is still moving forward, but the sheer number of possible rules that govern how all of the cellular parts work together and interact suggest that we will be working with this complexity for some time. There is a universe of rules that describe networks; explaining how proteins, ligands, nucleic acids and more interact and result in function.
The reason I like this article though is that toward the end there is a good quote from Bert Vogelstein:
“Humans are really good at being able to take a bit of knowledge and use it to great advantage,”
And we are. With some careful science and good detective skills we may not understand an entire process, but we can take what we do know and put it to good use, such as combating disease. The fact that biological systems are complex and that this complexity is not simply going to be understood the first time we draw back the curtain is a great finding.
For your reflection on this paper, I want you to choose a network that you are familiar with and involved in, a group of friends, a facebook page, text messaging, internet sites, grocery shopping, TV shows where the audience votes, are all examples. I want you to imagine how such a complex network is used to make a decision, such as “Should you go to Fred’s party?” or “What do I need to buy to bake a cake?” or “How is the winner chosen on Something With The Stars?” In this case the complex network might have some central pathways that strongly effect the decisions made or there could be many small contributions that ultimately determine the decision or a combination of both.
Think about your example, describe how the network is laid out, and explain how decisions get made.