Boffins turn to 'executable biology'

Boffins turn to 'executable biology'

Biological processes mapped as computer programs

Scientists are using a new technique to study biological systems by mapping them as if they were computer programs.

The Executable Biology process uses biological data as an executable set of instructions to create a computer program.

Microsoft, which is backing the research, claimed that this method ensures that models and predictions are precisely testable and verifiable.

Details of the process were published in the scientific journal Nature Biotechnology by Dr Jasmin Fisher, a biologist at Microsoft Research Cambridge, and Professor Tom Henzinger, a computer scientist at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.

"The technique has already been used to study and reveal new and important insights into a complex biological system [known as] cell fate determination in the organism C.elegans," said Fisher and Henzinger in the paper.

"In the future it has the potential to revolutionise our understanding of why and how biological systems go wrong and to transform our understanding of diseases."

The technique enables biologists to model highly complex, highly parallel, dynamic and reactive biological processes, as well as the biological states and transitions that constantly occur at multiple levels in living organisms.

"Existing techniques in this so-called 'systems biology' approach are based almost exclusively on mathematical models which are then implemented on a computer," the paper said.

"While this approach has afforded useful insights into some relatively simple biological functions, inherent constraints limit it as a technique to model and understand the highly complex biological interactions and processes that occur across many levels at the same time in living systems."