First complete computer model of an organism completed

Breakthrough in computational biology

There has been a significant breakthrough in computational biology; a complete computer model of an organism has been created for the first time.

A research team in Stanford led by Markus Covert, an assistant professor of bioengineering, “used data from more than 900 scientific papers to account for every molecular interaction that takes place in the life cycle of Mycoplasma genitalium, the world’s smallest free-living bacterium.”

“By encompassing the entirety of an organism in silico, the paper fulfills a longstanding goal for the field. Not only does the model allow researchers to address questions that aren’t practical to examine otherwise, it represents a stepping-stone toward the use of computer-aided design in bioengineering and medicine.”

A transforming approach

“This achievement demonstrates a transforming approach to answering questions about fundamental biological processes,” said James M. Anderson, director of the National Institutes of Health Division of Program Coordination, Planning and Strategic Initiatives. “Comprehensive computer models of entire cells have the potential to advance our understanding of cellular function and, ultimately, to inform new approaches for the diagnosis and treatment of disease.”

“Many of the issues we’re interested in aren’t single-gene problems,” said Covert. “They’re the complex result of hundreds or thousands of genes interacting.”

This has resulted in a massive gap between information and understanding, that will only be bridged by “bringing all of that data into one place and seeing how it fits together,” according to Stanford bioengineering graduate student and co-first author JayoditaSanghvi.

‘Integrative computational models’ can clarify data sets whose enormous size would otherwise place them outside human understanding.

“You don’t really understand how something works until you can reproduce it yourself,” Sanghvi said.

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