Scientists buzz that beyond the genome and the proteome a higher level of informational organization is needed to understand the cell's inner workings. The new grail, a computational model of a living cell, surpasses in detail and difficulty the mere "parts lists" provided by genomic and proteomic sources. A group gathered at the New York Academy of Sciences on Friday to discuss their particularly intricate target — the neuron.

A marvel of complexity, the neuron has temporally and spatially restricted chemistries, and chemical reactions are converted to and from a wide array of electrical signals or mechanical forces. But, said Ravi Iyengar, who organized the event, there's a detailed and growing physiological and biochemical background from which to work. There's also an endpoint where you can connect single neurons to a multicell system — an increasingly attractive goal in systems biology.

Moving from the explicitly detailed parts list to a...

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