Modelling and Simulating in Systems Biology: an Approach based on Multi-Agents Systems

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Systems Biology is an innovative way of doing biology recently raised in bio-informatics contexts, characterised by the study of biological systems as complex systems with a strong focus on the system level and on the interaction dimension. In other words, the objective is to understand biological systems as a whole, putting on the foreground not only the study of the individual parts as standalone parts, but also of their interaction and of the global properties that emerge at the system level by means of the interaction among the parts.

This thesis focuses on the adoption of multi-agent systems (MAS) as a suitable paradigm for Systems Biology, for developing models and simulation of complex biological systems. Multi-agent system have been recently introduced in informatics context as a suitabe paradigm for modelling and engineering complex systems. Roughly speaking, a MAS can be conceived as a set of autonomous and interacting entities, called agents, situated in some kind of environment, where they fruitfully interact and coordinate so as to obtain a coherent global system behaviour. The claim of this work is that the general properties of MAS make them an effective approach for modelling and building simulations of complex biological systems, following the methodological principles identified by Systems Biology. In particular, the thesis focuses on cell populations as biological systems.

In order to support the claim, the thesis introduces and describes (i) a MAS-based model conceived for modelling the dynamics of systems of cells interacting inside cell environment called niches. (ii) a computational tool, developed for implementing the models and executing the simulations. The tool is meant to work as a kind of virtual laboratory, on top of which kinds of virtual experiments can be performed, characterised by the definition and execution of specific models implemented as MASs, so as to support the validation, falsification and improvement of the models through the observation and analysis of the simulations. A hematopoietic stem cell system is taken as reference case study for formulating a specific model and executing virtual experiments.