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Towards Whole-Cell Models of Higher Organisms

2/28/2013

Towards Whole-Cell Models of Higher Organisms

2/28/2013

Investigator: Dr. Markus Covert
Position: Assistant Professor of Bioengineering
Institution: Stanford University
Project Title: "Towards Whole-Cell Models of Higher Organisms."
Award Amount: $1.5 million

Whole cell models? How did you become interested in this area?
About a dozen years ago I was reading a newspaper article about the revolution created by the Human Genome Project. One of the contributors stated that the ultimate test of understanding biology would be to create a computer model of a cell. I've been obsessed with the idea ever since!

How might this project help answer some of the biggest questions in science today?
One of the major reasons that some diseases are tough to crack is that they involve so many factors – not only in the genes, but also other cellular and environmental cues. In order to address such diseases, we will need to develop tools which can account for their multifactorial complexity. I see whole-cell models as an essential step in this process.

What do you want to achieve by the end of your ADI grant cycle?
Our goal is to develop several of the core technologies which will enable us to model more complicated organisms, from higher microorganisms to eventually mammalian and even human cells.

How do you and other pioneering researchers continue to push forward in your research, even when it gets challenging?
As part of this award, I've been reading more about Paul Allen (from "Idea Man") and some of the things that he wrote about his early days in Microsoft really resonated with me. In particular, I was struck by how being exposed to incredibly tough problems, and incredibly smart people, gave him the motivation to reach his potential and eventually change the world.

What's it like working as a pioneering researcher?
Working in cutting-edge science is an incredible rush – I've never seen a superhero movie that's nearly as surprising or exciting as the things that real people are doing every day to make our world better!

"Recently my lab built a 'whole-cell' computer model that takes every gene into account. The Allen Foundation's generous award will enable us to drive this technology from bacteria towards more complex organisms, from higher microorganisms to eventually human cells." Dr. Markus Covert