Exhibition 5

8/31 1-4, 6-8; 9/1 1-5; 9/2 1-4, 6-8, Arrillaga Alumni Center, McCaw Hall

FORSYS - Research Units for Systems Biology

Klaus-Peter Michel1 and Roland Eils2

FORSYS Managing Office at the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) Heidelberg, Germany.

  1. FORSYS Coordination: PD Dr. Klaus-Peter Michel
  2. FORSYS Speaker: Prof. Dr. Roland Eils


Systems biology emerged as an independent field during the late nineties in the U.S., in Europe and in Japan. The term 'systems biology' describes the study of biological systems at a so called systems level. Although this approach is not an entirely new concept in life sciences, it has regained strong interest, since many scientists have realized that an organism may represent more than the sum of its parts. Another major reason for the rapid emergence of systems biology is that the opportunities and research tools for scientists have tremendously developed within the last years to reach a novel and by far more powerful level than ever before.

To be at the international forefront of systems biology research, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) initiated an orchestrated program on systems biology in 2001. This program was to fund medium to long-term research initiatives. In 2006, the BMBF continued its policy and initiated 'FORSYS - Research Units for Systems Biology', an initiative being embedded in the national BMBF support program 'Biotechnology- Taking and Shaping Opportunities'.

As a result of the FORSYS call, four FORSYS Centers located in Freiburg, Heidelberg, Magdeburg, and Potsdam, received financial support of € 45 millions from the BMBF. The funding period has started on January 1st, 2007 and will last till December 31st, 2011.

The BMBF defined FORSYS's major objective in the development of interdisciplinary and work-sharing research units at German universities, non-profit research institutions, and private companies that will have a high impact on systems biology research in Germany. Since 2007, the FORSYS Centers have contributed to a fast growing and increasingly successful systems biology research community in Germany. The FORSYS initiative accounts for already existing research activities of the participating institutions on the local, regional, national, and international level. Existing personnel and equipment have been integrated into FORSYS to accomplish a maximum of synergy. In order to achieve the BMBF's explicit demand for sustainability of systems biology research, FORSYS will attain support by contributions of local and state facilities enabling a switch from a federal to a regional/local/institutional sponsorship once the five year funding period comes to an end. Concomitantly, industrial companies have joined FORSYS and contribute to a sophisticated system biology research in Germany.

Besides the development of systems biology research units, FORSYS has boosted teaching activities in the FORSYS Centers. The importance of this goal is reflected by the fact that all FORSYS Centers have set up novel systems biology educational programs for master and bachelor students in the life sciences. Moreover, dedicated PhD programs have been established. These activities strongly account for BMBF's support of selected teaching and student exchange programs.

Since the FORSYS activities are restricted to the four FORSYS centers and their neighboring non-profit research institutions, the BMBF reinforced its support of German systems biology by establishing the FORSYS Partner initiative in 2007/8.

The FORSYS Partner initiative is designed to complement FORSYS in highly required and recommended areas and scientific topics. This is achieved by integrating knowhow and technologies from outside into the research activities of the FORSYS centers. Besides the participation of research groups from German universities and non-profit research institutions, FORSYS Partner explicitly requested participation of industrial partners.

In particular, the FORSYS Partner initiative aims at an accelerated distribution of systems biology knowhow in the scientific community by establishing a tight link between established FORSYS centers and decentralized partner projects overall Germany. This is also reflected by the fact that representatives of FORSYS and FORSYS Partner work together in a single project committee to make joint decisions. A further focus of FORSYS Partner lies in the transfer of research and development results into industrial applications.

As a result of the FORSYS Partner call, the BMBF started funding of 10 FORSYS Partner Cooperation Projects and 12 FORSYS Young Investigator's groups at different locations in Germany on January 1st, 2008. Funding of the projects lasts for 3 and 5 years for partner projects and young investigator groups, respectively with a total amount of funding of € 35 millions.

Through its extensive funding of young investigator groups FORSYS Partner strongly supports young scientists to start a career in the field of systems biology and to conduct their own systems biology research. The FORSYS partner groups contribute to a rapid dissemination of systems biology knowhow from the already established FORSYS centers, while in turn the FORSYS centers strongly benefit from the complementary knowhow and technologies contributed by the partner groups.