You don’t have to build a million planes to test a million aeronautical designs; we have mathematical simulations and models that do that for us. But in biology—once the class you’d take in high school if you loved science, but hated math—that’s been impossible… until very recently. In this episode, Markus Covert, Professor of Bioengineering at Stanford, a16z deal partner Judy Savitskaya, and Bio Eats World host Hanne Winarsky, talk all about where we are in our ability to simulate and build models for how biology works.
Because biology has been so qualitative in the past, and so complex, it’s been extremely difficult to translate samples that are, say, smudges on a gel into the kind of quantitative data we need for these simulations and models. But we’re finally reaching the “Google Maps” moment in biology, Covert says, beginning to be able to build models at the single molecule level, of genetic circuits, whole cells, the dynamic interactions between different cells, map them onto larger networks like tissue… even, of course, model on a global level the effects of a pandemic. The conversation covers Marcus’ story of the Eureka moment behind the first whole cell model; what this new ability to simulate and model will allow us to understand and predict that we haven’t been able to before; and why it all matters—how these tools are bringing us into a new era of designing new functionalities, even new kinds of biological life.