Since some time the science community has singled out the grand challenges that science is facing. There are from the fields
- Quantum Chromo Dynamics,
- Astrophysics and
- Materials Science
Among them are challenges that cross the border between physics and biology. Due to the vast amount of data that is now available there is the possibility to understand living organisms as complex dynamic systems and to simulate their behavior. Biological processes occur on a wide range of spatial and temporal scales. The time scales of biological function range from very fast femtosecond molecular motions, to multi second protein folding pathways, to cell cycle and development processes that take place over the order of minutes, hours and days. Similarly, the dimensions of biological interest range from small organic molecules to multi-protein complexes, to cellular processes, to tissues, to the interaction of human populations with the environment. Thus one needs to understand how on the smallest scale conformational changes of molecules plus their interaction give rise to collective phenomena. Modelling the complex biological system is one of the greatest challenges due to the levels and scales involved. Physics can make a contribution leading to fundamental insights due to its tradition in modelling complex systems and its mathematical framework and computational approaches. Methods and theories from physics provide the tools and language of molecular structure from the smallest to the largest molecules and the fundamental laws to explain how molecules interact and form their three-dimensional shape.
If particular, todays grand challenges are:
- the relationship between structure of molecules and high level complexes of molecules and their function (for example: What is the structure of the DNA in the nucleus and how does this structure govern DNA transcription; given the protein structure, what is its function)
- protein structure and function (for example structure prediction; RNA structure prediction and DNA and RNA interactions with proteins)
- cellular processes, mediated by interactions of signaling molecules and their cell surface receptors
- biofluid dynamics
- how does behavior emerge from properties of neurons and networks of neurons
- what factors maintain biodiversity?
Common to these problems is the need for a theory for systems that combine stochastic and nonlinear effects, often in partially distributed systems.