Discerning whether a biological threat comes from terrorism or an emerging infectious disease is one problem that researchers at the Courant Bioinformatics Group at New York University (NYU) want to solve. Bhubaneswar Mishra's multidisciplinary team has created a series of complex software programs that allow researchers who deal with intricate, real-world bioinformatics problems to develop their own algorithms. This allows them to use mathematics to solve real issues in biology.
With one interactive part of the software called Valis, "biologists can cobble applications together rapidly" to build new tools in record time, explains Raoul-Sam Daruwala, a research computer scientist at Courant.
A second tool, called Simpathica, creates "an environment for exploring issues in systems biology," says Daruwala. With Simpathica, researchers can draw biological pathways of interactions between genes and proteins, proteins and proteins, and other biological molecules, thus facilitating hypothesis testing in silico.
These programs will give biologists simple ways to model theories, such as how a pathogen works physiologically or how an outbreak of a new strain of influenza might travel through the population. Thomas Daniel of NYU's Center for Catastrophe Preparedness and Response says, "The payoff is that we will be able to evaluate biological processes mathematically with the intent of leading to new methods of detection and decontamination."
Funding agencies include the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, and Department of Defense.
- Myrna E. Watanabe