As scientists focus on the behavior of individual cells and molecules, another problem arises, too: it becomes difficult to observe processes without affecting them. “We have to do something with the cell in order to analyze it, and we don’t really know how those manipulations affect it,” Kaern says.
Understanding noise will therefore involve overcoming a number of technological hurdles, but no one doubts that the endeavor is worth the undertaking. Noise could have important implications for many fields, including medicine: if cells and bacteria make a number of their decisions stochastically, then scientists might need to understand noise to develop new antibiotics and to optimize cell-based treatments such as stem cell therapy. “We need to understand how noise works within a network context; how it’s used by organisms,” Kaern says. “It’s a very exciting field—but a little bewildering sometimes.”
Note: This story was originally published with the title, "Bring In the Noise".