Upgraded systems biology?

Is systems biology 2.0 just around the corner? Researchers from Microsoft Research Cambridge, UK and L’école Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, Switzerland have outlined a new technique in that could upgrade and improve the way we understand biological systems.

Systems biologists examine the interaction of the different components of a cell, such as its genes, proteins and the molecular reactions, with the view to create a model of the whole cell in silico. Existing techniques use mathematical simulations to do this, by representing each process by a series of equations that are then solved to make predictions about the way the cell is acting.

Dr Jasmin Fisher in the UK and Professor Tom Henzinger in Switzerland, however, want to go one step further. Rather than expressing these processes as equations, the team want to represent them as abstract operations, like those used to create all executable files on a computer. The team proposes a number of techniques to do this, including Boolean networks, Petri nets and interacting state machines.

According to the researchers, this new method, dubbed ‘executable biology’ could solve non-linear and non-deterministic problems that would be impossible using mathematics. The models could also run directly on the operating system, whereas the mathematical models run through a third piece of software. This would be more efficient, allowing larger, more complicated models, to be produced.

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