Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

2020 Computing

Can computers help to explain biology?

The road leading from computer formalisms to explaining biological function will be difficult, but Roger Brent and Jehoshua Bruck suggest three hopeful paths that could take us closer to this goal.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Biological systems (right) have similarities and differences to von Neumann computers (left).


  1. Weinstein, J. N. Science 282, 687 (1998).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Simon, H. R. The Sciences of the Artificial 1st edn (MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1969).

    Google Scholar 

  3. Fields, S. Nature Genet. 15, 325–326 (1997).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. Kirschner, M. W. Cell 121, 503–504 (2005).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. Brent, R. Cell 100, 169–183 (2000).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Shannon, C. E. & Weaver, W. The Mathematical Theory of Communication (Univ. Illinois Press, 1948).

    MATH  Google Scholar 

  7. Sussman, G. J. The Legacy of Computer Science NCR/CSTB Symposium on the Fundamentals of Computer Science (2001).

    Google Scholar 

  8. Gillespie, D. T. Physica A 188, 404–425 (1992).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. Hodgkin, A. L. & Huxley, A. F. J. Physiol. Lond. 117, 500–544 (1952).

    Article  CAS  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  10. Gillespie, D. T. J. Phys. Chem. 81, 2340–2361 (1977).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. Calvano, S. E. et al. Nature 437, 1032–1037 (2005).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references


We are grateful to L. Lok, K. Tahashashi, D. Endy, O. Resnekov, P. Rabinow, D. Gillespie, M. Cook and M. Riedel for useful discussions and comments on the manuscript.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Brent, R., Bruck, J. Can computers help to explain biology?. Nature 440, 416–417 (2006).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing