Predicting Biological Behaviors
The cover article for the March 2009 issue of The Scientist highlighted advances made by three DOE scientists developing systems biology approaches to computationally simulate responses of microbes to changes in their environment. Dr. Nitin Baliga (Institute for Systems Biology) and his collaborators developed a computer model that could predict molecular-level responses of a free-living cell to genetic and environmental changes. Remarkably, the model was able to predict responses to changes that were different from the experimental data used to construct the model. The key to these insights is the normal interconnectedness of biological systems, for example changes in temperature affect solubility. The ability to link and predict novel biological responses represents an important step toward the ultimate goal of an in silico model of cell behavior. While the investigators focused on microbial systems involved in environmental processes of interest to DOE, the methodology has broad applications to all biological systems and is a major step forward in the burgeoning field of systems biology.