Systems Biology is a rapidly evolving discipline that seeks to determine how complex biological systems function. It works by integrating experimentally derived information with mathematical and computing solutions. Through an iterative process of experimentation and modelling, Systems Biology aims to understand how individual components interact to govern the functioning of the system as a whole.

The Syngenta Innovation Centre on Systems Biology at Imperial College London (University Innovation Centre-UIC) was set up in October 2008, as a centre of excellence in Systems Biology aiming to address biological research questions of importance to Syngenta through mathematical modelling developed at Imperial College London. The Syngenta Systems Biology UIC is a cross-faculty initiative led by Professor Muggleton (Faculty of Engineering) and Professor Sternberg (Faculty of Natural Sciences).

On commencement of the UIC, two “pioneer” projects were selected to initiate the collaboration: the first project aims to identify genetic factors involved in tomato ripening and the second project focuses in understanding key events involved in pesticide safety assessment.

These complementary projects correspond to two main business sectors at Syngenta (seeds and crop protection) and will apply a Systems Biology approach in two different experimental settings, to address different types of research questions. In both cases, predictive models will be developed at Imperial through Machine Learning methods on the basis of empirical data provided by Syngenta. The two current projects have been progressed in association with Rothamsted Research (Professor Chris Rawlings) using the Ondex data integration and visualisation software with support from the BBSRC funded Ondex project.

In 2010, a third project was launched in the field of ecological modelling. The project aims to test whether a machine learning approach on ecological data has the potential to predict the effects of agricultural management on crop productivity and biodiversity.