What Is Digital Biology?

It's more than simple databasing, mining, or in silico experimentation.

June 6, 2005

It's more than simple databasing, mining, or in silico experimentation. To create and analyze nature-inspired computer simulation of biological systems – from pathways to cells to entire ecosystems – and then use this information to devise new and creative ways to study life, it must incorporate these things and much more. At its core, though, the definition of digital biology, which is the focus of this issue of The Scientist, should be quite simple and quite literal: It's anything that employs the logic of ones and zeroes in the study of life.

A common denominator driving these efforts is the data deluge inundating life scientists in every field. The information that will guide a million new hypotheses and launch a million more experiments is humming away somewhere in the world, at places like the Sanger Institute. We take you to their data storage facility, which is solving the overload in a number of innovative ways. In the pages following our profile, two groups of experts discuss their own thoughts on making sense of the surplus. Computer scientist David Donoho and colleagues call for neuroscientists do the unthinkable: Work with mathematicians who do computer modeling. Plant geneticist Nina Fedoroff and colleagues have been seeking out a way to interpret the qualitative language of biology in a quantitative fashion. A tool that can do this intuitively will help to shrink a great divide between life science and computer science.

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