Systems biology is a rapidly emerging discipline within the life sciences offering a organicist view on biology. It is making us aware of the connectedness of living systems where interactions between molecules, genes, cells, species and the environment are responsible for the regulation of biological functions. The emergence of biological function cannot be reduced to a linear summation of the functions of its individual parts but rather needs to be investigated in its natural context. This implies that decoding the individual parts of a biological system by using the bioinformatician's toolbox marks only the first step in the systems biology cycle for knowledge discovery. This cycle describes the process that connects and couples a biological system through an in-vivo or in-vitro experiment to a mathematical model that is based on acquired, quantitative data. The mathematical model itself can then generate quantifiable predication that in turn can be validated against the biological model system. If completion of this loop succeeds we have indeed gained a deeper insight into or understanding of the modelled biological process.
Systems biology therefore spans several disciplines and is by and large a team effort. Closing the communication gap between life science graduates and members of the other sciences (e.g. chemistry, physics, mathematics) and engineers (e.g. computer science) is therefore a particular challenge for a systems biology course. We have addressed this challenge by offering students a flexible, fully online provided course that makes use of modern teaching technologies guiding them through the interesting and challenging teaching material at their own pace.