Progress toward virtual E. Coli

For those who contemplate the day when we can say the workings of the brain are fully understood and solved, this article (Building a Virtual Microbe, Gene by Gene by Gene – New York Times) about the consortium trying to do the same for the simple bacterium E. Coli is humbling.

Click more for some interesting excerpts.

In 1967, Francis H. C. Crick, the co-discoverer of DNA, and the Nobel Prize-winning biologist Sydney Brenner had called for “the complete solution of E. coli.”

But the call went unheeded for over 30 years. After all, E. coli contains an estimated 60 million biological molecules. Simulating all of them at once was an absurdly difficult task.

But by the late 1990’s, it began to look plausible, although not necessarily easy. Despite decades of research, many of E. coli’s genes still remain a mystery – “probably around 1,000 genes,” Dr. Thomas said. “There’s a lot more we need to know about E. coli before we can build a really solid model.”

Crazy, isn’t it? And as many have claimed with the brain…

“Assuming the speed of computing keeps increasing, I don’t see why it’s not possible,” said Dr. Emonet, who is not involved in Project Gemini.

But, like some other scientists, he has some reservations about its usefulness. “Even if we could make a simulation of everything inside E. coli today, that does not mean we would understand it,” he said “The trick is to build the thing in steps and check that you understand the phenomena one at a time.”

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