Ramakrishnan's Research Featured by NSF

Publish Date: 11/12/2008

Dr. Naren Ramakrishnan, a professor of computer science at Virginia Tech, and Upinder S. Bhalla at the National Centre for Biological Sciences in India described in the July 2008 edition of PLoS Computational Biology how they used the System X supercomputer at Virginia Tech to search for "switch-like" combinations within a cell's store of possible chemical reactions. The search identified combinations that formed what are known as bistable circuits, that is, groups of chemical reactions that can be switched back and forth into two separate but stable states. This allows a cell to use chemical compounds to model state, much like a transistor switch that can be set to a steady 'one' or 'zero.'

Their exhaustive computational exploration found that chemical switches are surprisingly abundant, highly diverse, but related to one another. The catalog of switches opens up new bioinformatics approaches to understanding cellular decision making and cellular memory. This research will help answer basic biological questions such as How does a cell know what type of cell it is supposed to become? How do external chemical signals change the underlying “state” of the cell? How are response pathways triggered on the application of a stress?

See also:

NSF's Discovery story
Video Interview
PLoS Computational Biology paper