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Scientists create digital bacteria to forge advances in biomedical research

Scientists at the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory have constructed a computer simulation that allows them to study the relationship between biochemical fluctuations within a single cell and the cell's behavior as it interacts with other cells and its environment.

The simulation, called AgentCell, has possible applications in cancer research, drug development and combating bioterrorism. Other simulations of biological systems are limited to the molecular level, the single-cell level or the level of bacterial populations. AgentCell can simultaneously simulate activity on all three scales, something its creators believe no other software can do.

"With AgentCell we can simulate the behavior of entire populations of cells as they sense their environment, respond to stimuli and move in a three-dimensional world," said Thierry Emonet, a Research Scientist in Philippe Cluzel's laboratory at the University of Chicago's Institute for Biophysical Dynamics.

Emonet and his colleagues have verified the accuracy of AgentCell in biological experiments. AgentCell now enables scientists rapidly to run test experiments on the computer, saving them valuable time in the laboratory later.

Emonet is the lead author of a paper announcing the development of AgentCell that was published in the June 1 issue of the semimonthly journal Bioinformatics. His co-authors are Argonne's Charles Macal and Michael North, and the University of Chicago's Charles Wickersham and Philippe Cluzel. The work was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and the University of Chicago/Argonne National Laboratory Seed Grant Program.

AgentCell will be used to tackle a major goal in single-cell biology today: to document the connection between internal biochemical fluctuations and cellular behavior. "The belief is that these fluctuations are going to be reflected in the behavior of the cell as shown experimentally by John Spudich and Daniel Koshland in 1976,
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Source:University of Chicago


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