Research in all of the research areas studied within the DTP is integrally linked to the development and application of new technologies and the use of imaging, bioanalytical, statistical and modelling approaches to investigate the function and evolution of biological systems. Understanding of biological systems provides the insight and the tools necessary to intervene purposefully and change the outcome of a biological process as well as to recreate the system by other means and enable predictive and synthetic biology.
- Integrative systems biology. Work in integrative systems biology aims to integrate expertise in biosciences, engineering, statistics and mathematics to develop an understanding of the structure and function of biological organisms, from the molecular-scale to population level processes. For example, researchers within the partnership are carrying out interdisciplinary research to develop a basic biological neural network; to study the systems underpinning bacterial motility and chemotaxis; and to combine modelling, biochemistry and imaging approaches to generate whole genome-scale, cell and tissue-specific models of plant metabolism and predict plant responses to stress. Students working in this area will benefit from access to training provided in conjunction with the Synthetic Biology and Systems Approaches to Biomedical Sciences CDTs.
- Single cell and single molecule biology. We view the development, application and integration of methods for single cell and single molecule biology as a particularly important area for current and future research. This is a rapidly emerging field in which new methodologies are enabling cell-specific analyses of gene expression, transport, metabolism and protein function. These approaches can be used, for example, to study the changes that occur as stem cells differentiate, as pathogen populations evolve, and as disease progression occurs. Students working in this field will benefit from training provided by advanced bioimaging facilities across the partnership, including the Micron Advanced Bioimaging Unit; The Wolfson Imaging Centre; Diamond’s X-ray imaging, X-ray and infrared microspectroscopy beamlines; and the OCTOPUS (Optics Clustered to OutPut Unique Solutions) facility at CLF. OCTOPUS is a new concept in laser imaging, in which multiple light sources are linked to multiple imaging stations allowing a combination of techniques to be brought to bear on the samples under investigation. Oxford researchers also have close collaborative links with the Single Cell Genomics Centre established by EMBL-EBI
- ‘Omics. High-throughput analysis of genomes, proteomes and transcriptomes is a vital underpinning approach in single cell biology, and in modern bioscience in general. The Oxford Genomics Centre at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics (WTCHG) has the largest capacity for next-generation sequencing in the UK after the Sanger Centre, and is at the forefront of developing technologies underpinning genomics research. Students will also benefit from training and facilities available via the Oxford Central Proteomics facility, and expertise in the skills needed to work with big data across the DTP.
- Synthetic biology. An important challenge for the future is the application of systems level understanding and tools to design novel systems. Synthetic Biology approaches may be applied within a wide variety of research areas within the DTP, including the development of new biosensor technologies, fundamental research into molecular and cellular systems, and the development of novel biological systems for industrial biotechnology and bioenergy. Research and training in this area has recently been enhanced by the establishment of a new EPSRC and BBSRC CDT for Synthetic Biology.