Researchers Make the World's First Complete Software Simulation of an Organism

[Credit: Erik Jacobsen/Covert Lab]

The Mycoplasma Genitalium, the world's second smallest bacterium, is a humble microbe that was previously most famous for its fondness for urogenital and respiratory tracts, and for the distinction of having the smallest genome of any free-living organism. As of 20th July 2012, it's now also renown for being the first organism in the world to have a complete computer model of itself.

Using data derived from more than 900 scientific papers, a team of researchers led by Markus Covert has opened new doors in computational biology by creating a full computer simulation of M.Genitalium. According to co-first author and Stanford biophysics graduate student Jonathan Karr, the objective here was "not only to understand M.Genitalium better," but to "understand biology generally."

As hard as it might be to imagine that something so small could possibly be so difficult to recreate in a software simulation, the final model of the Mycoplasma Genitalium made use of more than 1,900 experimentally determined parameters.

Complicated scientific jargon aside, the implications of this breakthrough are rather exciting. With computational models like the one the team came up with, computer-guided experimental regimes and the wholesale creation of new microorganisms may well be a part of our future.

Karr theorizes that, in the future, this might even bring about further advances to the field of personalized medicine. "This is potentially the new Human Genome Project," Karr told the Stanford Report.

[Stanford University 1, 2]

Cassandra Khaw is an entry-level audiophile, a street dancer, a person who writes about video games for a living, and someone who spends too much time on Twitter.

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