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Quantitative biosciences training at UCSF

Training and research in the quantitative biosciences at UCSF is an emerging, highly interdisciplinary, fluid, and exciting area of science positioned at what the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) describes as an inflection point in the life sciences—a point at which we are coming closer and closer to understanding how the parts of living systems operate together in biological organisms and ecosystems. The quantitative biosciences are proving essential to that understanding as demonstrated by excerpts from the 2009 NRC report A New Biology for the 21st Century:

Recent technological advances in a number of fields outside biology make possible unprecedented quantitative analysis of biological systems. These fields are diverse, including physics, electronics, chemistry, nanotechnology, computer science, and information technology.

(For example) …unraveling the genotype-phenotype connection will require that the efforts of biomedical researchers be complemented and supplemented by the skills and different approaches of engineers, mathematicians, and physical and computational scientists… 

(And)…the issue of predictability is one major reason why even the present level of integration of life sciences with engineering is already productive. Engineering offers a way of thinking that can contribute substantially to unraveling the inherent complexity of biological science. The essence of engineering is predictive design…

What kind of scientist is needed at this inflection point?

Importantly, the New Biologist is not a scientist who knows a little bit about all disciplines, but a scientist with deep knowledge in one discipline and basic “fluency” in several. One implication of this is that not all “New Biologists” are now, or will in the future be, biologists! The physicists who study how the laws of physics play out in the crowded and decidedly non-equilibrium environment of the cell, or the mathematicians who derive new equations to describe the complex network interactions that characterize living systems are New Biologists as well as being physicists and mathematicians…

The kind of scientist described in this report is the kind of scientist being trained in the five PhD graduate programs under UCSF's Quantitative Biosciences Consortium (QBC) umbrella.

The kinds of relationships that will signal the success of the New Biology are not commonly found within traditional academic and funding structures. UCSF, however, is:

  • Known for innovation.
  • Built on collaboration.
  • Dedicated to interdisciplinary PhD graduate education.
  • A champion of the quantitative and the biological sciences. (As example, it is home to the UCSF arm of the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3), which promotes quantitative approaches to the biosciences and the conversion of discoveries into products and services that address society’s critical needs.)
  • Dedicated solely to graduate-level education and biomedical research. 

Next topic: QBC umbrella