Funding agency: 
National Institutes of Health

The purpose of this funding opportunity announcement (FOA) is to promote systems developmental biology. In the context of this FOA, systems developmental biology is defined as research focused on understanding how biological components work together to produce the complex biological phenomena encompassing embryonic development.

Systems developmental biology is an emergent field utilizing the approaches of systems biology to integrate the expanding molecular-level knowledge of genes, proteins, biochemical, biophysical and cellular processes into networks of interacting components that result in embryonic development. Systems developmental biology offers the potential to complement the reductionist focus of modern developmental biology and provide a more comprehensive understanding of the causal relationships leading to normal and abnormal embryogenesis.

Over the past several decades the approaches used by developmental biologists to study embryogenesis have resulted in a wealth of detailed molecular-level descriptions of developmental phenomena. The successes of hypothesis-driven reductionist approaches have taught us that development is exceptionally complex and that simple intuitive models of developmental processes are insufficient for comprehending this enormous complexity. Ultimately, a more profound understanding of development requires the assimilation of many levels of genomic, biochemical, and biophysical information into models that are quantitative, predictive, and experimentally verifiable.

Recent advances in genomic sequencing, rapid analysis of gene regulatory elements, and quantitative multiplex assays of gene expression make it feasible to expand systems biology approaches to network analyses of embryonic development. Such network models for embryonic development offer the potential to link isolated molecular and mechanistic descriptions of developmental processes into a foundational framework allowing important causal relationships to be identified and predictively understood. However, before these goals can be achieved there are substantial conceptual, technological, and cultural challenges to overcome. This FOA addresses these challenges.

Systems biology is evolving as an integrated experimental, informational, and computational science. 

  • In contrast to focusing exclusively on the properties of individual molecules and pathways, systems biology centers on understanding how biological components work together to produce system-wide outcomes. One type of systems biology approach is a “top-down” data-driven “omics” approach which seeks to identify components and potential network interactions within a biological system. In contrast, a second type of systems biology is a “bottom-up” approach which focuses on building models of interactions to provide a predictive understanding of the causal relationships driving physiological and developmental processes. These approaches are often combined and may require the integration of expertise across traditionally separated scientific disciplines potentially involving the collaboration of biologists, clinicians, physicists, chemists, and computer scientists.
Research Scope

Application of systems biology tools to address developmental questions in many ways represents a paradigm shift for developmental biology and birth defects research. Since these approaches and their application are evolving, this FOA is not intended to be proscriptive in scope. Examples of research areas of interest include but are not limited to:

  • Efforts to compile new and to integrate existing data sets regarding signaling pathways, signal transduction cascades, biophysical processes, epigenetic modifications, and transcription factor hierarchies into regulatory network models of developmental processes; 
  • Analysis of existing or new data sets to identify connections between genes, pathways, or processes that are involved in developmental processes or the formation of structural birth defects; 
  • Experimental validation of network models for developmental processes; 
  • Development of computational or experimental tools for constructing, perturbing, and/or validating models of developmental processes; 
  • Development of or improvements to computational tools for constructing or displaying network models of developmental processes, particularly those that predict outcomes from in silico perturbations. 

Projects proposed for this FOA need not be either hypothesis-driven or experimentally based and can make use of any multicellular model organism. However, these projects should clearly be focused on understanding the processes of embryonic development or the ontogeny of structural birth defects. They should also be based on or useful in furthering approaches that consider how biological components work together to produce system or network-wide consequences.

December 6, 2017
Funding type: