Monday, December 8, 2014

A Contemporary Contemplation of Computational Systems Biology

Hiroaki Kitano published a paper in Nature titled “Computational systems biology.” Cited one-thousand six-hundred and sixty-four times, this popular paper explores the importance of integrating both experimental and computational research to better understand biological systems. Within biological systems, there are a plethora of intricate interaction between diverse components that produce ultimately complex behaviors. To better understand these relationships, it is impractical to simply approach the problem through experimental bench work.

The utility of computational biology derives from the incorporation of data-mining for patterns within large sets of existing experimental results. Once established and analyzed, these patterns serve as the basis of hypothetical predictions ranging from protein structures to signaling system responses. Subsequently, by simulating experiments through computer-modeling, the next layer of predictive capabilities can be established, given sufficient supporting qualitative data. An eventual goal for simulations would be to scale up from targeting only small sub-networks of cells to perhaps even whole-patient modeling of debilitating diseases. Future medical research, such as drug development, could revolve around this computationally driven process of engineering.

Computational systems biology is capable of providing novel results previously unfeasible to attain through a purely experimental approach. However, that is not to say that one can be a replacement for the other. Through a symbiotic relationship, both methods rely on each other to expound new insights into the field of biology.

A piece of feedback that I would provide the author, though, would be the use of more applicable and professionally appropriate sub-titles that revealed the content of the sections which they are describing. For instance, titles such as “A two-pronged attack” and “No free lunch” seem jovial, and even humorous, but may not be the most fitting choices for this style of writing. Nevertheless, given the year this paper was published (2002), Kitano was at the forefront of his time in revealing the importance of a computational approach to studying science. As we can now realize and appreciate today, these insights have been observed to be true.

Kitano H. Computational systems biology. Nature 2002; 420:206-210

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