The extracellular matrix (ECM) is a complex biological system. Its many components and interactions as represented in e.g. humans, have arisen through approximately 600-800 million years of metazoan evolution. Extracellular matrices, which consist of a system of fibres, allow cells to communicate and cooperate in a multicellular organism, receiving physical and positional cues that establish and maintain the bauplan of the organism. They determine the shape of organs, allow animals to move, maintain blood pressure and contribute to specialized systems such as vision, hearing, kidney function, lung and skin elasticity and the structural integrity of bones, teeth, ligaments and tendons.
Through a systematic analysis of ECM components and their interactions we hope to understand the underlying organization of the matrix and how the perturbation of this network contributes to changes associated with progressive diseases such as atherosclerosis, asthma, arthritis, and fibrosis. The comparative analysis of a number of fully sequenced eukaryotic genomes also provides insights into the timing and process by which matrix components arose during evolution in humans and other organisms. Having established a workflow for the definition and analysis of biological systems and a basic understanding of ECM components and their functional organization we are now interested in examining the potential implications of non-synonomous, disease-associated mutations (SNP's) on network organization.