EMBL aims to establish a new theory research programme (Theory@EMBL), that will promote theory-guided paths to discover, understand, and conceptualise underlying principles of complex and dynamic biological systems at all scales, from molecules to organisms across the whole planet. Theory@EMBL aims to combine computational and modelling activities with novel conceptual theory building.

EMBL plans to embed the new theory research programme in an environment of vibrant biological research, cutting-edge data generation, and bioinformatics. Theory@EMBL will be an integral part of EMBL’s scientific mission. It will build on EMBL’s strong culture of interdisciplinarity and collaboration, and will aim to bring together EMBL’s entire community of experimentalists and theoreticians. It will integrate theoretical approaches established in other fields – such as physics, mathematics, and information theory – to solve challenging biological problems that, in turn, are expected to inspire new theory.

Modern biology entails the production of quantitative data at high resolution and at many scales, and the generation of systematic, dynamic experimental perturbations. The field is now well-positioned to fully benefit from theory-guided approaches. This will enable concrete advances towards theory-based understanding of the unique emergent properties of complex living systems, spanning scientific disciplines. Such new theoretical foundations will generate testable predictions for the design of future experiments and studies, and may eventually guide applications in biotechnology, engineering, and medicine.

With the new theory research programme, EMBL aims to create a stimulating community of theoreticians from a range of disciplines, and to build alliances with other institutes involved in theoretical research. As a preliminary step, a pilot Theory Visitor/Sabbatical Programme has been opened to initiate and deepen collaborations with EMBL groups. EMBL’s goal is to also develop new training opportunities in theory-driven approaches for the next generation of life scientists. This will include conferences and workshops, including both smaller, highly intensive scientific meetings, and broader European strategy meetings.

Future Theory@EMBL efforts will seek to combine critical analysis, innovative conceptual thinking, and mathematical or computer-based modelling across a range of biological questions and data types, driving efforts towards the development of novel conceptual theory for biology.