Computer Simulates Full Organism for First Time

Scientists at Stanford University and the J. Craig Venter Institute have created the first-ever software simulation of a full single-cell organism.

The scientists and other experts said the work was a giant step toward developing computerized laboratories that could carry out many thousands of experiments much faster than is possible now, helping scientists penetrate the mysteries of diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s.

“You read in the paper just about every week, ‘Cancer gene discovered’ or ‘Alzheimer gene discovered,’ ” said the leader of the new research, Markus W. Covert, an assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford. “A lot of the public wonders, ‘Why haven’t we cured all these things?’ The answer, of course, is that cancer is not a one-gene problem; it’s a many-thousands-of-factors problem.”

For medical researchers and biochemists, simulation software will vastly speed the early stages of screening for new compounds. And for molecular biologists, models that are of sufficient accuracy will yield new understanding of basic cellular principles.

This is kind of a big deal.

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