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In silico biology refers to computational models of biology. In silico is an expression used to mean performed on a computer or via computer simulation. It is used in systems biology. Due to the vast amounts of data that is now generated by molecular and cell experimental biologists, computational biology is increasingly necessary to manage it. In silico biology draws from the vast amounts of biological information available, and applies sophisticated algorithms or simulations to advance scientific understanding. The results of these simulations can then be tested experimentally or serve as a guide for future physical experimentation.
The scientific journal In Silico Biology bridges the gap between experimental and computational biology, stating"Most of the presently available scientific journals focus either on accumulating more data from elaborate experimental approaches, or on presenting new algorithms for the interpretation of these data. Both approaches are meritorious. However, since both communities do not interact much with each other, neither the experimental nor the computational biologists really apply the theoretical tools to that extent which would be possible and desirable to achieve that progress of research which is already feasible.” The journal and the field often deal with the synergistic collaboration between experimental and computational methods, including modeling and sophisticated algorithms.
In silico biology has many applications. For instance, in bioinformatics in silico biology can be used to measure or even preserve biodiversity. Biodiversity of an ecosystem might be defined as the total genomic complement of a particular environment, from all of the species present, whether it is a biofilm in an abandoned mine, a drop of sea water, a scoop of soil, or the entire biosphere of the planet Earth. Databases are used to collect the species names, descriptions, distributions, genetic information, status and size of populations, habitat needs, and how each organism interacts with other species. Specialized software programs are used to find, visualize, and analyze the information, and most importantly, communicate it to other people. Computer simulations model such things as population dynamics, or calculate the cumulative genetic health of a breeding pool (in agriculture) or endangered population (in conservation). One very exciting potential of this field is that entire DNA sequences, or genomes of endangered species can be preserved, allowing the results of nature’s genetic experiment to be remembered in silico, and possibly reused in the future, even if that species is eventually lost.
History of the term
In silico does not mean anything in Latin. The proper Latin phrase would likely be in simulacra to describe experiments done on the likeness (simulacrum) or model of a phenomenon.
The expression in silico was first used in public in 1989 to characterize biological experiments carried out entirely on a computer.