Ten questions about systems biology
In this paper we raise ‘ten questions' broadly related to ‘omics', the term systems biology, and why the new biology has failed to deliver major therapeutic advances for many common diseases, especially diabetes and cardiovascular disease. We argue that a fundamentally narrow and reductionist perspective about the contribution of genes and genetic variants to disease is a key reason ‘omics' has failed to deliver the anticipated breakthroughs. We then point out the critical utility of key concepts from physiology like homeostasis, regulated systems and redundancy as major intellectual tools to understand how whole animals adapt to the real world. We argue that a lack of fluency in these concepts is a major stumbling block for what has been narrowly defined as ‘systems biology' by some of its leading advocates. We also point out that it is a failure of regulation at multiple levels that causes many common diseases. Finally, we attempt to integrate our critique of reductionism into a broader social framework about so-called translational research in specific and the root causes of common diseases in general. Throughout we offer ideas and suggestions that might be incorporated into the current biomedical environment to advance the understanding of disease through the perspective of physiology in conjunction with epidemiology as opposed to bottom-up reductionism alone.