Theory@EMBL

EMBL aims to establish a new theory research programme (Theory@EMBL), which will promote theory-guided paths to discovering, understanding, and conceptualising the underlying principles of complex and dynamic biological systems at all scales, from molecules to organisms to the whole planet.

Theory@EMBL aims to combine computational and modelling activities with novel conceptual theory building. EMBL plans to embed the new theory research programme in an environment of cutting-edge biological research, data generation, and bioinformatics. Theory@EMBL will be an integral part of EMBL’s scientific mission. It will build on EMBL’s strong culture of interdisciplinarity and collaboration, and will contribute to creating a diverse EMBL community of experimentalists and theoreticians. It will integrate theoretical approaches established in other fields – such as physics, mathematics, and computer science – to solve challenging biological problems that, in turn, are expected to inspire new theory.

Modern biology involves the production of quantitative data at high resolution and at many scales, and the generation of systematic, dynamic experimental perturbations. Statistical data analysis and machine learning are important pillars of the discipline. Biology is now poised to receive major innovations from theory-guided approaches, and to make concrete advances towards theory-based understanding of the unique emergent properties of complex living systems. Theoretical foundations will generate testable predictions for the design of future experiments and studies, and may eventually guide applications in biotechnology, engineering, and medicine.

With the new theory research programme, EMBL aims to create a stimulating community of theoreticians from a range of disciplines, and to build alliances with other institutes involved in theory-oriented research. As a preliminary step, a pilot Theory Visitor/Sabbatical Programme has been set up to initiate and deepen collaborations between EMBL groups and researchers from other institutes. EMBL also aims to develop new training opportunities in theory-driven approaches for the next generation of life scientists. This will incorporate conferences and workshops, including both smaller, highly intensive scientific meetings and broader European strategy meetings.

Future Theory@EMBL efforts will seek to combine critical analysis, innovative conceptual thinking, and mathematical or computational modelling across a range of biological questions and data types, driving the development of novel conceptual theory for biology.

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