The key scientific challenges of the next century require that we fundamentally advance our current understanding of complex natural systems- ranging from how cells work and why/how they go wrong, to how the interaction of climate and ecosystems regulates the planet’s life support system. We wish to understand how these systems behave at the functional level, and how this behaviour arises as a result of highly dynamic, strongly non-linear, tightly coupled interacting processes occurring across multiple spatial and temporal scales. Entirely new kinds of exploratory and predictive models and research strategies are needed to address these challenges. In short, a novel computational approach and environment is needed for doing this kind of science - and this does not exist today.
Progress requires both a cultural and technological change in the way in which mathematical and computational models, tools and software are developed, and a concomitant change in the way in which groups of scientists are trained to develop and use these approaches. This work can only be done in the context of real biological problems. 2020 Science brings together a consortium of partners from academia and industry, each of whom has begun to focus on differing but complimentary aspects of these problems.