2/2010

Research unravels disease mechanisms

Stuart Kauffman

"I enjoy my theoretical work in the TUT-led team", says
Stuart Kauffman.

Along with a wealth of international contacts, FiDiPro professor Stuart Kauffman has brought new perspectives to TUT. He encourages people to rethink everything from cell functions to the growth of national economy.

World-renowned complexity theorist, Stuart Kauffman, was keen to take part in a FiDiPro project at Tampere University of Technology (TUT). The project, funded by the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation Tekes, was launched in early 2009 and focuses on the modelling of gene regulatory networks.

Inspirational collaboration

TUT played an active part in recruiting Kauffman.The complex systems researcher is enthusiastic about the arrangements and acknowledges the contribution of Professor Olli Yli-Harja at the Department of Signal Processing in setting up a research group.

Kauffman's comprehensive knowledge of theoretical biology, complex systems and systems biology, and the research group's practical approach complement each other very well.
"This is certainly the most interesting project of my career and it has also kept my spirits high. This is fun", says Kauffman.

The collaboration is progressing as planned. The research group has already published papers on new modelling strategies for gene expression and gene regulatory networks in prokaryotic organisms.

"At the moment, we are testing our predictions and models with existing techniques as well as developing new experimental techniques. In addition, we are characterizing the dynamics of gene expression in bacteria at the single cell, single gene, and single protein level", says member of the research team Andre Ribeiro.

Tackling global challenges

Understanding gene regulation is key to understanding biological processes. The functions of individual genes depend on a number of regulatory factors interacting with each other. Many of the genes in the network can replace each other according to a carefully controlled mechanism.

FiDiPro funding programme

  • The Finland Distinguished Professor Programme (FiDiPro) offers universities and research institutions the opportunity to bring world-class foreign researchers and expatriate Finns to work in Finland for a fixed period of time.
  • The programme will strengthen scientific and technological knowledge in Finland and boost international collaboration.
  • FiDiPro supports the specialization of universities and research institutes.
  • FiDiPro aims at achieving long-term international collaboration. During the funding period, the researchers recruited within the framework of the programme can work abroad for no more than 50 percent of the time per year. They must work in Finland for at least two years in total.
  • The first FiDiPro researchers started work in early 2007. At the moment, there are seven FiDiPro professors conducting world-class research at TUT.

"Although there are biological events governed by a single gene, cell functions are typically the result of a multitude of genes and events. The dynamic relationship between a few dozen genes is heavily dependent on hundreds of regulation events. It is influenced, among others, by whether or not a gene is active and the activity level", says Christophe Roos, member of the research group.

Research into gene regulation leads to better understanding of disease mechanisms and the interaction between bacteria, for example, in biodegradation processes. This is crucial for the early detection of diseases and the prediction of disease progression and individual variation in response to treatment. The findings will also contribute to the development of new energy sources. Researchers are hoping to find solutions that will help determine the best possible treatment for each patient and promote the sustainable use of natural resources.

New world view

Professor Yli-Harja, the Finnish contact person of the FiDiPro project, says that the collaboration has already proven successful.

"This project has paved the way for new initiatives and further research. The collaboration has offered us the opportunity to tap into Prof. Kauffman's broad network of international contacts. He also has a large number of existing contacts in Finland."

Kauffman's findings have inspired him to develop a new scientific world view and novel perspectives on science, reason and religion. Learn more about Kauffman's ideas concerning, for example, the consciousness between the quantum and classical worlds.

 

Text: Tarja Luukko
Photo: Petri Laitinen


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