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A virtual human


Denis Noble’s virtual heart model, looking a little like a crafts basket that never turned out, is in fact a complex simulation.

Robert Matthews says, “They describe themselves as systems biologists, a low-key name for a decidedly high-brow calling. Their goal is to create simulations reflecting as much of the complexity of living systems as available computing-power allows. And that means venturing far beyond the level of genes, using the world's most powerful computers.

“. . .At Oxford University, a team led by Prof Denis Noble has created a computer model of the heart so sophisticated it shows the action of simulated versions of real drugs, revealing new ways of preventing heart attacks. It is also being used to design drugs with minimal side-effects - the holy grail of the pharmaceutical industry.

"But this is just the start. Systems biologists are building computer models of other organs, with the ultimate aim of linking them all together into a single 'virtual human'. That will take a lot of computing power: Noble is negotiating for time on a Japanese super-computer capable of a million billion operations a second.”

Matthews's dismissal of the Genome Project's contribution to illness may be a little premature. We will follow Nobel's project with interest.