The Bytes Behind Biology

BigBen's 21 cabinets hold 4,136 processors

Performing 21 trillion calculations per second, a supercomputer in Pittsburgh provided the first atomic-level look at the inner workings of the nuclear pore complex. That's just one of its accomplishments.

By Andrea Gawrylewski


1 Preexisting models, based on electron microscopy and experimental work, had suggested four calcium binding sites to facilitate neurotransmission. Stiles created a model of single calcium channels with stochastic opening and closing, which allowed him to watch the influx of calcium through single channels, trace each ion as it entered through each channel independently, and look at the vesicle it happened to bind to, if any.

By varying the number of binding sites and relating that to the molecular data, all while tracking the release of neurotransmitter, the group came up with a different estimate of the number of binding sites. "It turns out that...

1. J. Coggan et al., "Evidence for ectopic neurotransmission at a neuronal synapse," Science , 309:446-51, 2005. [PUBMED]
2. T. Isgro, K. Schulten, "Binding dynamics of isolated nucleoporin repeat regions to Importin-â," Structure , 13:1869-79, 2005. [PUBMED]

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