Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Zimmer on Virtual E. coli

Carl Zimmer has another excellent article in today's New York Times. The subject this time is the attempts by scientists to create a perfect computer simulation of E. coli:

Michael Ellison has a dream: to reconstruct a living thing inside a computer, down to every last molecule. It is, he said, "the ultimate goal in biology to be able to do this."

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Dr. Kari Lounatmaa/Photo Researchers
Even a simple organism like E. coli bacteria will be difficult to re-create.

Jason Scott for The New York Times
Researchers at the University of Alberta, top, are trying to program a stripped-down virtual version of a common bacteria, E. coli. The surface of the cell is at left, and the cross sections show different stages in the formation of the membrane.
It's a dream that Dr. Ellison, a biologist at the University of Alberta, shares with other scientists, who have imagined such an achievement for decades.

Understanding how all of the parts of an organism work together would lift biology to a new level, they argue. Biologists would be able to understand life as deeply as engineers understand the bridges and airplanes that they build.

“You can sit down at a computer, and you can design experiments, and you can see the performance of this thing, and then you can figure out why it's done what it's done,” Dr. Ellison said. “You're not going to recognize the full return of the biological revolution until you can simulate a living organism.”

Fascinating stuff.