Journal article Open Access

From computational quantum chemistry to computational biology: experiments and computations are (full) partners

Ma, Buyong; Nussinov, Ruth

Computations are being integrated into biological research at an increasingly fast pace. This has not only changed the way in which biological information is managed; it has also changed the way in which experiments are planned in order to obtain information from nature. Can experiments and computations be full partners? Computational chemistry has expanded over the years, proceeding from computations of a hydrogen molecule toward the challenging goal of systems biology, which attempts to handle the entire living cell. Applying theories from ab initio quantum mechanics to simplified models, the virtual worlds explored by computations provide replicas of real-world phenomena. At the same time, the virtual worlds can affect our perception of the real world. Computational biology targets a world of complex organization, for which a unified theory is unlikely to exist. A computational biology model, even if it has a clear physical or chemical basis, may not reduce to physics and chemistry. At the molecular level, computational biology and experimental biology have already been partners, mutually benefiting from each other. For the perception to become reality, computation and experiment should be united as full partners in biological research.

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