Stanford Researchers Create World's First Complete Computer Model of an Organism

Posted on July 21, 2012

Covert Lab Creates Mycoplasma Genitalium Program

Stanford researchers recently announced that they have produced the first complete model of an organism. The organism modeled by Stanford researchers is Mycoplasma genitalium, described as a parasitic bacterium known for showing up uninvited in human urogenital and respiratory tracts. The bacteria has the smallest genome of any free-living organism. It contains just 525 genes, which is very small compared to bacteria like E. coli, which has 4,288 genes.

A team led by Markus Covert, assistant professor of bioengineering, used data from more than 900 scientific papers to account for every molecular interaction that takes place in the life cycle of Mycoplasma genitalium. Over 1,900 experimentally observed parameters were incorporated into the computer model of the bacterium.

To integrate these disparate data points into a unified machine, the researchers modeled individual biological processes as 28 separate "modules," each governed by its own algorithm. These modules then communicated to each other after every time step, making for a unified whole that closely matched M. genitalium's real-world behavior.

Bioengineer Markus Covert discusses his pursuit of a whole-cell computational model of a living organism in this video. Take a look:

The research was published here in Cell.

Image: Erik Jacobsen / Covert Lab

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