Friday, November 07, 2008

Cell-level simulation and hobbyist participation

These are a few simulators for biological cells and processes.
A lot of the important things that happen in medicine are happening at the cellular level. Cell-level simulators might provide a way for large numbers of hobbyist medical researchers to construct and test hypotheses. The most promising hypotheses might be testable in real biology laboratories, and the results could be fed back to improve the accuracy of the simulators.

I'm not sure this would be an effective strategy for hastening the pace of medical progress. My intuition is biased because I've spent the last fifteen years working with open-source software (Linux, Apache, etc). I recognize that competition and profit are also powerful forces driving the rate of innovation, and that these seem to work best when people aren't sharing information so readily. The software/internet world has seen lots of progress in the last ten or twenty years, and it seems that a mixed environment with both open-source and closed-source approaches has pushed things along well.

Software is difficult but biology is much more difficult. At least it looks that way from my software engineer's point of view. The depth of expertise required for meaningful contribution to medical knowledge will likely exclude most would-be contributors. I don't know what to do about that. Perhaps cell simulators and on-line information can make that expertise more accessible.

Participation by hobbyists has become a very big part of the astronomy community. Maybe there is a legitimate place for hobbyists in the field of medical research.


PeterVermont said...

You might find SynBioSS of interest as well:

Will Ware said...

Thanks! That looks cool, I will have to download it and tinker with it. I might have to start learning some biology if I want to maintain this blog.