Biological cells as cloud computing networks

Tom James @ 13-08-2009

webIn an interesting confluence of ideas, and of the unintentional biomimicry at work in cloud computing, researchers identify parallels between biological cells and computer networks:

Gene regulatory networks in cell nuclei are similar to cloud computing networks, such as Google or Yahoo!, researchers report today in the online journal Molecular Systems Biology. The similarity is that each system keeps working despite the failure of individual components, whether they are master genes or computer processors.

“It’s extremely rare in nature that a cell would lose both a master gene and its backup, so for the most part cells are very robust machines,” said Anthony Gitter, a graduate student in Carnegie Mellon’s Computer Science Department and lead author of the Nature MSB article. “We now have reason to think of cells as robust computational devices, employing redundancy in the same way that enables large computing systems, such as Amazon, to keep operating despite the fact that servers routinely fail.”

It is fascinating how natural selection has already discovered many of the same processes used by human engineers.

[via Technut News, from ScienceDaily][image from Jus’ fi on flickr]

Seeing around cells: The microscopic periscope

Tom Marcinko @ 26-02-2009

periscopeBiologists almost never see the sides of cells. Traditional microscopes only show them the top. Now, though, Vanderbilt scientists have created what’s being called “the world’s smallest periscope”:

The researchers have dubbed their devices “mirrored pyramidal wells.” As the name implies, they consist of pyramidal-shaped cavities molded into silicon whose interior surfaces are coated with a reflective layer of gold or platinum. They are microscopic in dimension – about the width of a human hair – and can be made in a range of sizes to view different-sized objects. When a cell is placed in such a well and viewed with a regular optical microscope, the researcher can see several sides simultaneously.

This low-cost 3D microscopic technique could become standard practice, and become as common as the traditional slide. If only somebody could tell Stephen Boyd or Edmond O’Brien.

A sunflower pollen grain from five vantage points, PhyOrg.