Full metabolism model. How exciting!

metabolic pathways 1Science published a study today by the Burnham Institute at UC San Diego, The Scripps Institute, and the Novartis Genomics Institute reporting that they have for the first time modeled the central metabolic pathway system of a bacterium, complete with 3-D, atomic resolution overlays of the involved proteins. Exciting, no?

On the Burnham website they say:

Combining biochemical studies, structural genomics and computer modeling, the researchers deciphered the shapes, functions and interactions of 478 proteins that make up T. maritima’s central metabolism. The team also found connections between these proteins and 503 unique metabolites in 562 intracellular and 83 extracellular metabolic reactions.

“We have built an actual three dimensional model of every protein in the central metabolic system,” said Adam Godzik, Ph.D., director of Burnham’s Bioinformatics and Systems Biology program. “We got the whole thing. This is analogous to sequencing an entire genome.”

Here’s a link to a little video on Vimeo about the project.

Developing a solid computer model of any living thing — even a bacterium — is an important step. Computer modeling of airplanes, electronic components, architectural projects and many other things have enabled huge strides in understanding and efficiently designing many things we use today. But the innards of any living thing have been so complex that full modeling has been pretty much beyond reach. What’s exciting about this accomplishment is the prospect of scaling up to model cells, organisms, and even ecosystems. If computer models of cells and organisms prove to be as useful as modeling in other areas has, then this is a bit like putting a rocket engine behind bio-medical research.

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