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Rubrik: News

Foundation of the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering
A new structure for System Biology

Published: 27.07.2006 06:00
Modified: 26.07.2006 16:25

(cm) Now that System Biology has advanced to become a leading area of research at ETH Zurich (1) , on 1st January 2007 it will acquire its own department at the university, the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering (D-BSSE). This decision was taken by the ETH-Executive Board after an internal consultation process on 5 July 2006. Thus the Center of Biosystems Science and Engineering, C-BSSE, which represents one of the planned nodes of the Swiss Initiative in Systems Biology, SystemsX (2) , will be transformed structurally into a department even before it begins.

Established as a clearly distinct entity

The designated Director of this node, Renato Paro (3) , explains the reason why a department of its own at ETH was devoted to Systems Biology in addition to the research groups already existing in this field (4) : “The advantage of the department structure in contrast to a centre is that it is clearly established as an entity at ETH. The rules are generally known and the decision paths are defined.” There is also the fact that a D-BSSE ensures the right to have a say in the appointment of professors and guarantees a high degree of independence.

Paro, who takes up his position on 1 August, is able to report with regard to the location that provisionally the Department will remain resident in Basel in the “Biopark Rosental” in a building leased from Syngenta near the Friedrich-Miescher Institute (Novartis) and will be a direct neighbour of the Department for Clinical-Biological Sciences of the University of Basel. “However, in the long term other locations in Basel will also be considered.” In total, ETH Zurich intends to unite up to 15 research groups under the new roof. Although the D-BSSE is an independent department, efforts will be made to set up associations of individual professorial chairs at other departments.

ETH added value in Basel

ETH Zurich plans to fund the new department with an annual global budget of 25 million Swiss francs for the years 2008-2011. At the same time the Federal government is to increase the ETH budget by this amount from 2008 onwards. 33 million Swiss francs are available until 2007. According to Paro, this will be used firstly to convert and renovate the building and secondly to recruit professors. Basically the designated department head hopes that the new department will become a topic of conversation not because of its costs but because it offers real added value for ETH in Basel. “An additional fact is that the proximity to major pharmaceutical companies represents an opportunity to give an extra stimulus to the research.”

All in all, both Paro and the ETH-Executive Board hope for innovative interdisciplinary research in the new department with all the competences literally under one roof. Thus it is planned as a meeting place for new starting points from biology, the nano-sciences and computer sciences. The fields of experimental analysis, theory and technology development will be valued equally when recruiting the new researchers. Renato Paro is convinced that he now has the means and the infrastructure to bring about quantum leaps in a field with a promising future – both in method development and in the acquisition of knowledge. Moreover, at ETH the D-BSSE can also benefit from the spirit of the times. Paro comments that: “I sense that there is a real atmosphere of awakening in Systems Biology of the kind that once prevailed in biomedical research in the seventies because of DNA cloning technology.”

The new Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering will start work under this roof next year: the Biopark Rosental in Basel.

A meeting point called the “Science Lounge” for all D-BSSE staff is to be created in this part of the building.

(1 “ETH Life” Interview with ETH Professor Ruedi Aebersold on the field of System Biology; “Biology as an exact Science”: (
(2 SystemsX: (
(3 “ETH Life” Report on the appointment of Renato Paro; “In Basel at ETH Zurich”: (
(4 For example the System Biology Domain at ETH Zurich includes the Institute of Molecular Systems Biology: (

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