Professor Dr. Bas Teusink
Systems Bioinformatics Group, Centre for Integrative Bioinformatics, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
"Data integration should be more than just adding another dataset"
1. What is the leading research theme in your group?
"To find the general design principles behind biological networks. Our approach is like the opposite of engineering. When an engineer starts out with a design for a system, he needs to know what the desired function is and what the constraints are. This provides him with the necessary specifications. In our case, the system already exists and we need to derive the specifications. What is the function of a system and what are its constraints? That will hopefully reveal why evolution has selected this particular system. An example to illustrate the biological context of our work is the Warburg-effect, the phenomenon that fast growing cancer cells strongly increase their consumption of glucose and use it to produce lactic acid, which is a much less efficient process than fully consuming the glucose to generate energy. This occurs in many types of cancers. A similar effect is known in yeast and in bacteria. When fuel is abundant, organisms use that to grow really fast, but they get very sloppy in how they use their resources. It seems to be impossible to grow fast and efficiently use resources at the same time. But why? What are the underlying trade-offs and constraints of such a general principle?"
2. With what type of groups or organisations do you collaborate most and why?
"We work with mathematicians that have an interest in biology. Those are relatively rare by the way, but they exist. We also collaborate with experimental groups, for example in molecular biology or biophysics. And of course we collaborate with our fellow systems biologists. My group represents this combination of theory and experiment really well. Roughly half of the people work on theoretical approaches and the other half make up the experimental side. "
3. From your research perspective, what are the main challenges in bioinformatics right now?
"To take data integration beyond its current statistical nature. We need to include more systems and mechanistic knowledge into our data analysis. Data integration should be more than just adding another dataset."
4. What is the most important task of a group leader?
"Make sure that everyone is happy and secure so that they can realize their full potential. And to do it in such a way that I pose a minimal burden to them."
5. How would you describe the atmosphere in your group?
"Very international, enthusiastic, no hierarchy, everyone easily interacts. Active discussions and because there is coherence between everyone's activities there is also a real team spirit. And it is a truly multidisciplinary team, we have a theoretical physicist, a medical biologist and everything in between."