Exploring modularity in biological networks

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Network theoretical approaches have shaped our understanding of many different kinds of biological modularity. This essay makes the case that to capture these contributions, it is useful to think about the role of network models in exploratory research. The overall point is that it is possible to provide a systematic analysis of the exploratory functions of network models in bioscientific research. Using two examples from molecular and developmental biology, I argue that often the same modelling approach can perform one or more exploratory functions, such as introducing new directions of research, offering a complementary set of concepts, methods and algorithms for individuating important features of natural phenomena, generating proofs of principle demonstrations and potential explanations for phenomena of interest and enlarging the scope of certain research agendas. This article is part of the theme issue 'Unifying the essential concepts of biological networks: biological insights and philosophical foundations'.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20190316
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1796
Early online date24 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - 13 Apr 2020


  • modularity
  • networks
  • Biology
  • models
  • philosophy
  • exploratory

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