A paper recently published in the Journal of Molecular Biology shows how advances in molecular biology and computer science around the world soon may lead to a three-dimensional computer model of a cell, the fundamental unit of life.
According to the authors, the development could herald a new era for biological research, medical science, and human and animal health.
"Cells are the foundation of life," said Ilya Vakser, professor of computational biology and molecular biosciences and director of the Center for Computational Biology at the University of Kansas, one of the paper's co-authors.
"Recently, there has been tremendous progress in biomolecular modeling and advances at understanding life at the molecular level. Now, the focus is shifting to larger systems -- up to the level of the entire cell. We're trying to capture this emerging milestone development in computational structural biology, which is the tectonic shift from modeling individual biomolecular processes to modeling the entire cell."
The study, titled "Challenges in structural approaches to cell modeling," surveys a range of methodologies joining the march toward a simulated whole 3-D cell, including the studies of biological networks, automated construction of 3-D cell models with experimental data, modeling of protein complexes, prediction of protein interactions, thermodynamic and kinetic effects of crowding cellular membrane modeling, and modeling of chromosomes.
"A lot of techniques that are required for this are already available -- it's just a matter of putting them all together in a coherent strategy to address this problem," Vakser said. "It's hard because we're just beginning to understand the principal mechanisms of life at the molecular level -- it looks extremely complicated but doable, so we're moving very fast -- not only in our ability to understand how it works at the molecular level but to model it."
While most of these techniques are being developed separately, the authors say that considered together they represent a push forward that could provide a better basic "understanding of life at the molecular level and lead to important applications to biology and medicine."
"There are two major benefits," Vakser said. "One is our fundamental understanding of how a cell works. You can't claim you understand a phenomenon if you can't model it. So this gives us insight into basic fundamentals of life at the scale of an entire cell. On the practical side, it will give us an improved grasp of the underlying mechanisms of diseases and also the ability to understand mechanisms of drug action, which will be a tremendous boost to our efforts at drug design. It will help us create better drug candidates, which will potentially shorten the path to new drugs."
As an example, the KU researcher said a working 3-D molecular cell model could help to replace or augment phases of time-consuming and expensive drug development protocols required today to bring drug therapies from the scientist's bench to the marketplace.
Vakser said that facets of the research that could lead to a computer-simulated cell are at different levels of refinement.
"We've made advances in our ability to model protein interactions," he said. "The challenge is to put it in context of the cell, which is a densely populated milieu of different proteins and other biomolecular structures. To make the transition from a dilute solution to realistic environment encountered in the cell is probably the greatest challenge we're facing right now."
While modeling more complex human cells might be on the agenda soon, Vakser said that for the time being, research efforts will focus on modeling simple single-celled organisms.
"We go for the simplest cell possible. There are small prokaryotic cells, which involve minimalistic set of elements that are much simpler than the bigger and more complicated cells in mammals, including humans," he said. "We're trying to cut our teeth on the smallest possible cellular organisms first, then will extrapolate into more complicated cells."
Along with Vakser, the paper's authors are Wonpil Im of Lehigh University, Jie Liang of the University of Illinois at Chicago, Arthur Olson of The Scripps Research Institute and Huan-Xiang Zhou of Florida State University.
Brendan M Lynch | EurekAlert!
Cryo-electron microscopy achieves unprecedented resolution using new computational methods
24.03.2017 | DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
How cheetahs stay fit and healthy
24.03.2017 | Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V.
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
24.03.2017 | Materials Sciences
24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy