ADVERTISEMENT
See Inside Scientific American Volume 310, Issue 1

Scientists Successfully Model a Living Cell with Software

In creating the first complete computer model of an entire single-celled organism, biologists are forging a powerful new kind of tool for illuminating how life works

More In This Article

The crucial insight came to me as I leisurely rode my bike home from work. It was Valentine's Day, 2008. While I cruised along, my mind mulled over a problem that had been preoccupying me and others in my field for more than a decade. Was there some way to simulate life—including all the marvelous, mysterious and maddeningly complex biochemistry that makes it work—in software?

A working computer model of living cells, even if it were somewhat sketchy and not quite accurate, would be a fantastically useful tool. Research biologists could try out ideas for experiments before committing time and money to actually do them in the laboratory. Drug developers, for example, could accelerate their search for new antibiotics by homing in on molecules whose inhibition would most disrupt a bacterium. Bioengineers like myself could transplant and rewire the genes of virtual microorganisms to design modified strains having special traits—the ability to fluoresce when infected by a certain virus, say, or perhaps the power to extract hydrogen gas from petroleum—without the risks involved in altering real microbes. Eventually, if we can learn to make models sophisticated enough to simulate human cells, these tools could transform medical research by giving investigators a way to conduct studies that are currently impractical because many kinds of human cells cannot be cultured.

This is only a preview. Get the rest of this article now!

Select an option below:

Customer Sign In

*You must have purchased this issue or have a qualifying subscription to access this content


It has been identified that the institution you are trying to access this article from has institutional site license access to Scientific American on nature.com.
Click here to access this article in its entirety through site license access.

Rights & Permissions
Share this Article:

Comments

You must sign in or register as a ScientificAmerican.com member to submit a comment.
Scientific American Dinosaurs

Get Total Access to our Digital Anthology

1,200 Articles

Order Now - Just $39! >

X

Email this Article

X