"Systems Pathology as Systems Biology"
As systems biology joins other natural sciences (astronomy, particle physics, earth systems sciences, combinatorial chemistry) in struggling with very large scale data sets, we may want to harvest their experiences and other sources of knowledge external to biology that have an established tradition of examining how systems are constructed and operate. Many of the disciplines in engineering (systems engineering, feedback and control systems, electrical engineering) have mined theorems on systems behavior and efficiency for decades. Already systems biology has made good use of graph theory, and the expanding interest in commonalities across networks of all kinds. Cell systems-level simulations are using concepts from circuit theory. The ICCS, at least implicitly, is dedicated to examining a wide range of complex systems, with some workers actively seeking the foundational similarities that make any system feasible. This talk will attempt to suggest and critique non-traditional sources of, and ways to present useful systems knowledge from unusual sources to systems biologists. The inherent difficulties in educating sufficient numbers of “systems” biologists using our traditionally disciplined-based educational system will be covered. Most of the talk will focus on the prospects for a new specialty named Systems Pathology as a useful future source for Systems Biology. Systems Biology would be related to Systems Pathology as cell and molecular biology are to medicine, with some unique attributes that extend beyond this simple analogy. The talk will outline the possible concepts, approaches, and methods of Systems Pathology and what both fields might learn from each other. Initially, Systems Pathology consists of a conscious application of the successful historical traditions and methods of medicine to the general systems sciences. Systems Pathology would extend biomedical techniques to system’s disease recognition & naming through identification of repeating symptoms of systems malfunction regardless of system scale or domain. It would continue with system’s disease classification, search for system’s diagnostic tests, possible system’s level treatments based on the type of general malfunction, reliable prognosis for classes of system’s disease, and, most important, strategies for system’s disease prevention. The latter might be especially useful for those engaged in legislation or socio-economic systems design. For example, Systems Pathology emphasizes the need for a system’s level Hippocratic Oath. The leap from the particular complex system of the human body to complex systems in general is admittedly great, but it will not happen unless the traditions that were selected over time for medicine (evolved) are consciously adopted by sufficient numbers of systems workers, perhaps through educational systems. Case studies in Systems Pathology from the work of Miller (Living Systems Theory) and the Linkage Proposition System of Systems Mechanisms will be surveyed. One of the oldest and traditional systems professional societies (the ISSS) is initiating a SIG (Special Integration Group) on Systems Pathology with its first meeting at Asilomar this summer. It is the purpose of SIGs to organize and ensure work on their topic between meetings. As such the ISSS Systems Pathology SIG would become a working consortium for further development of this approach to complex systems in general. Systems biologists working at the level of interpretation of system’s regularities and irregularities in vast data sets would be especially welcome in this consortium.