Biology is currently undergoing a paradigm shift by transitioning from a largely qualitative to a more and more quantitative Science. Computational Biology is playing a key role in this transition, both in enabling a quantitative approach and in broadening the scope of biological questions that can be asked. The mission of the Department of Computational Biology (DCB) has three main components:
- Basic research in Computational Biology
- Use of computational approaches to answer questions that are relevant to biological and medical research
- Teaching and supervision in quantitative biology
Research in Computational Biology uses modelling, simulation and, in general, computational approaches as main investigative tools. It usually takes advantage from data generated by high-throughput technologies (notably next generation sequencing) to address a plethora of biological and medical questions, ranging from fundamental aspects of cell biology (like how cells cooperate to form tissues and organs, or escape these mechanisms and turn cancerous) to those of the entire organism of a species, populations, or even whole ecosystems. Indeed, Computational Biology has become a key component across virtually all domains of biology, from molecular genetics or epidemiology to evolutionary biology, which are at the focus of the various departments of the Faculty of Biology and Medicine (FBM). Despite the applications of Computational Biology are very diverse, many key computational concepts and tools can be common to many areas, since they all involve the analysis of complex data of biological structures or systems, regardless of their origin. The goal of the DCB is therefore to centralize analysis expertise while having a broad range of themes.
The FBM has been investing for many years in establishing research groups in various departments that work in the fields of computational biology, bioinformatics, biostatistics or computational modelling. We are therefore in the exceptionally fortunate situation of having already excellent competences and infrastructures in this field of study, not only in the lemanic area, but also in Switzerland. These include:
- 10 groups of computational biology research (see www.unil.ch/compbio) conducting first class research at international level.
- A network of strong institutions and researchers who exchange their complementary knowledge and integrate their diverse competences in interdisciplinary research projects, including members of UNIL, CHUV, EPFL, and SIB.
- A well-developed bioinformatics infrastructure with a large and internationally competitive computing cluster and outstanding expertise (VITAL-IT).
- Existing teaching structures and curricula for educating students in quantitative biology, including courses at the B.Sc., M.SC., and Ph.D. levels, with focus on data analysis, statistics and programming.
The central goal of the DCB is therefore to facilitate the uptake of emerging innovations and developments for quantitative biology across various domains. This includes making the best use of today’s technologies, as well as being prepared for those of the future:
- In biology, the DCB aims at coordinating developments towards the integration and interpretation of various types of ‘omic’ information.
- In medicine, the DCB wants to play a central role in the fields of personalized care and forefront medical research.
- In computational science, the DCB aims at contributing to and be connected with state-of-the-art information science, including mathematical modelling and the latest advances in simulation technologies.