Stanford scientists have created a full computational model of the Mycoplasma genitalium bacteria, which will rapidly speed up experiments that would otherwise involve time-consuming alterations to physical cells. The research team chose M. genitalium because of its simplicity, and the model consists of 28 individual algorithmic modules that represent each of the cell's major cellular functions. Each of these modules communicate with one another, allowing scientists to document the effects of small, experimental changes.
Biophysics graduate student Jonathan Karr said "[the] goal hasn't only been to understand M. genitalium better," "[it's] to understand biology generally." M. genitalium may only have 525 genes, but the scientists had to program more than 1,900 parameters to account for all of the cellular processes. This highly detailed model has already provided biologists with some interesting findings — while the length of a cell's metabolic cycle stays largely the same from cell-to-cell, the biochemistry of its sub-cycles can vary. This "biological emulation" provides a window through which scientists can look into the complex and nuanced interactions that happen within a cell, in a faster and more efficient way than ever.