TOOLS: Silicon Cell Biology

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Science  03 Dec 2004:
Vol. 306, Issue 5702, pp. 1661
DOI: 10.1126/science.306.5702.1661d

Forget petri dishes and incubators; the cells at this site never need food or clean glassware, and they can't die if you neglect them. The Virtual Cell from the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington lets researchers customize models to simulate biochemical and electrophysiological activities of cells. You can install structures such as organelles and channels through the cell membrane, stock the cytoplasm with various molecules, and specify what biochemical reactions can occur. What sets the Virtual Cell apart from most modeling software, says project director Leslie Loew, is that it allows users to incorporate processes involving cell structure, such as diffusion and membrane transport. Visitors can share their creations through a central database. Other models have tackled everything from calcium balance in pancreatic cells to the breakdown of the nuclear membrane during mitosis.

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