Computer model mimics entire organism

July 24, 2012 at 2:58 PM
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PALO ALTO, Calif., July 24 (UPI) -- Researchers in California say they've made a breakthrough in computational biology by creating the first complete computer model of an organism.

Writing in the journal Cell, researchers at Stanford University combined date from more than 900 scientific papers to account for every molecular interaction in the life cycle of Mycoplasma genitalium, the world's smallest free-living bacterium.

Modeling the entirety of an organism in a computer has been a longstanding goal for computational biology and represents a stepping-stone toward the use of computer-aided design in bioengineering and medicine, a Stanford release reported.

Biology studies in the past two decades have produced enormous amounts of cellular information, so a lack of experimental data is no longer the primary limiting factor, researchers said; instead, it's how to make sense of what is already known.

A complete computer model of an organism can clarify and illuminate data sets whose sheer size would otherwise place them outside human understanding, they said.

"You don't really understand how something works until you can reproduce it yourself," Stanford bioengineering researcher Jayodita Sanghvi said.

Mycoplasma genitalium was chosen, the researchers said, because it possesses the smallest genome of any free-living organism -- only 525 genes -- as opposed to the 4,288 of E. coli, a more traditional laboratory bacterium.

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