How lessons from iPhone's Siri aid biological exploration

For all the genomic data available to the scientific community, many biological functions remain mysterious to researchers. A group from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine has tested the use of bioinformatics and other technologies to demystify how cells function.

The effort aims to build a computational model of the cell from massive amounts of genetic and protein data, according to the group's release, which provides highlights from their paper published online in Nature Biotechnology over the weekend. And they showed how their automated approach yielded new insights that led to updates to the existing body of knowledge about genes and cellular function, or the Gene Ontology (GO).

When we speak to the iPhone's Siri, the voice-controlled personal assistant, the intelligent system taps ontologies to understand us. To describe complex biological networks, the UC San Diego group's computer model seeks to automatically harness large amounts of genetic and biological data to aid scientists in understanding how the parts of the cellular machinery work together and function.

"What's new about our ontology is that it is created automatically from large datasets. In this way, we see not only what is already known, but also potentially new biological components and processes--the bases for new hypotheses," said Janusz Dutkowski, a postdoctoral researcher in the UC San Diego Department of Medicine, in a statement.

The group hopes that their high-tech approach to understanding the cell can streamline the efforts of many different scientists to add to the understanding of how cells function.

- check out the group's release