System approaches of Weiss and Bertalanffy and their relevance for systems biology today
System approaches in biology have a long history. We focus here on the thinking of Paul A. Weiss and Ludwig von Bertalanffy, who contributed a great deal towards making the system concept operable in biology in the early 20th century. To them, considering whole living systems, which includes their organisation or order, is equally important as the dynamics within systems and the interplay between different levels from molecules over cells to organisms. They also called for taking the intrinsic activity of living systems and the conservation of system states into account. We compare these notions with today's systems biology, which is often a bottom-up approach from molecular dynamics to cellular behaviour. We conclude that bringing together the early heuristics with recent formalisms and novel experimental set-ups can lead to fruitful results and understanding. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.