Chemistry & Biodiversity
The Center for the Study of Biological Complexity is proud to sponsor the journal Chemistry & Biodiversity. The journal publishes work straddling the chemical and biological sciences, with the ultimate goal of broadening the understanding of how nature works at a molecular level. Lemont Kier, Ph.D., a senior fellow with our center, serves as the journal’s North American associate editor.
The unifying vision of the Center for the Study of Biological Complexity at Virginia Commonwealth University centers on the application of the principles of complexity to the revolutionary advances in our understanding of life that have resulted from the recent stunning successes deciphering genomes, proteomes and metabolomes.
Extending the tenets of discovery science and systems biology, biological complexity embraces the principle that life is more than a sum of its parts and invokes mathematical and computational principles to model and interpret life’s processes.
Specific research foci
The center supports research in integrative molecular, cellular and developmental biology. We have five specific research foci:
Microbial systems biology and pathogenesis
VCU is traditionally very strong in one of the center’s primary research areas: microbial molecular biology and infectious disease. More than two dozen faculty members in more than 10 departments at VCU study the molecular basis of pathogenesis of bacterial, fungal and viral agents of infectious disease. Specifically, our research focus is centered on studies of infectious agents using systems biology approaches and the principles of biocomplexity. Center faculty employ state-of-the-art high throughput omics (genomics, metagenomics, metabolomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, etc.) to dissect the complex interactions between microbes, populations of microbiota and their environments, including, but not limited to, their human hosts. We aim to increase understanding of the complex programs that lead to the development of a pathogen and the even more intricate relationship between the host and the pathogen.
Gene networks in cell biology and cellular control mechanisms
Another strong group in the center focuses on development of gene networks and metabolic and interactomic networks and pathways using gene expression array, proteomics and interatomic technologies. Systems under investigation span networks involved in microbial pathogenesis, host response to microbial pathogens, mechanisms of oncogenesis including cell cycle control and apoptosis, network in the neuroendocrine system, gene networks involved in substance dependency and systems involved in cellular and organismal aging, including longevity-gene network analysis. Sixteen center faculty comprise this group.
Structural biology and pharmacogenomics
The center has strongly supported the programs of structural biology and pharmacogenomics at VCU. This group includes 14 faculty from four departments at VCU and applies structural analyses from mass spectrometry, nuclear magnetic resonance and X-ray crystallography to decipher relevant macromolecular structures. These macromolecular structures can be used for the identification of potential small-molecule inhibitors, which can be used as treatments or preventative agents for cancer, infectious diseases or genetic and hereditary diseases.
Environmental and ecological systems
Environmental scientists and ecologists have practiced complexity science for decades as the components of these systems are largely macromolecular and therefore directly observable and measurable. These individuals share extremely valuable experience with the newly converted cellular and molecular biologists and play a critical leadership role in our programs. Seven of our fellows fall into this group. Significantly, Robert Ulanowitz, Ph.D., now retired from the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Studies, was one of our first external fellows.
Mathematical and computational biology, biomedicine, biophysics and biostatistics
The center recognizes the integral importance of a strong theoretical and computational arm in its research. A group of 12 faculty members in eight different departments focuses on mathematical, statistical and computational approaches to biological problems. This group uses theoretical and applied mathematics to develop and apply new approaches, including visualizing and mining data; molecular systematic, multiscale modeling and visualization to dissect biological functions, graph theory and network analysis; high-performance computational modeling and simulation; agent-based and biostatistical modeling; and mathematical biology as applied to research problems.