Scientists from J. Craig Venter Institute and Stanford University
have successfully built a computational model of an entire
organism in computer software -- for the first time ever.
This incredible feat will provide the bioengineering researchers
a global analysis of the allocation and use of energy in the cell
along with identifying usual molecular pathologies behind
single-gene disruption characteristics.
The simulation of an organism will undoubtedly help researchers
in better understanding biology, cells in particular. Moreover,
it could aid in speeding up research or permitting a test that
will not be possible in actual conditions.
According to the team's lead scientist, «If you use a model to
guide your experiments, you're going to discover things faster.
We've shown that time and time again.»
The scientists used data from more than 900 scientific papers
written about the bacterium that covered all molecular processes
taking place within the organism's lifecycle. Grouped into 28
different modules are the resulting 1,900 resulting parameters.
Modules are responsible for their respective biological process
and is controlled by its own algorithm. Moreover, modules can
communicate amongst each other, replicating the actual processes
inside the living bacterium.
The reason for choosing the M. genitalium as the subject is
because of its size -- it has the smallest known genome (with 521
genes in a circular chromosome of almost 583,000 base pairs)
among any free-living organism that can constitute a cell. It is
also the second-smallest bacterium, next to the more conventional
lab bacterium E. coli.
In order to simulate just one cell division, a cluster of 128
computer units running for 10 hours were used to generate the
data on 25 types of molecules involved in the cell's life cycle.
The resulting data amounts to 500Mb, which could not look like
much but is actually very big already when you consider that it
is a very tiny organism.
«Right now, running a simulation for a single cell to divide only
one time takes around 10 hours and generates half a gigabyte of
data. I find this fact completely fascinating, because I don't
know that anyone has ever asked how much data a living thing
truly holds,» said the lead scientist to Norton Medical and
Scientific Research & Biotechnology.