Examining the architecture of cellular computing through a comparative study with a computer

Degeng Wang, Michael Gribskov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


The computer and the cell both use information embedded in simple coding, the binary software code and the quadruple genomic code, respectively, to support system operations. A comparative examination of their system architecture as well as their information storage and utilization schemes is performed. On top of the code, both systems display a modular, multi-layered architecture, which, in the case of a computer, arises from human engineering efforts through a combination of hardware implementation and software abstraction. Using the computer as a reference system, a simplistic mapping of the architectural components between the two is easily detected. This comparison also reveals that a cell abolishes the software-hardware barrier through genomic encoding for the constituents of the biochemical network, a cell's 'hardware' equivalent to the computer central processing unit (CPU). The information loading (gene expression) process acts as a major determinant of the encoded constituent's abundance, which, in turn, often determines the 'bandwidth' of a biochemical pathway. Cellular processes are implemented in biochemical pathways in parallel manners. In a computer, on the other hand, the software provides only instructions and data for the CPU. A process represents just sequentially ordered actions by the CPU and only virtual parallelism can be implemented through CPU time-sharing. Whereas process management in a computer may simply mean job scheduling, coordinating pathway bandwidth through the gene expression machinery represents a major process management scheme in a cell. In summary, a cell can be viewed as a super-parallel computer, which computes through controlled hardware composition. While we have, at best, a very fragmented understanding of cellular operation, we have a thorough understanding of the computer throughout the engineering process. The potential utilization of this knowledge to the benefit of systems biology is discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)187-195
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Computation process
  • Information retrieval
  • Information storage
  • Process management
  • System architecture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biophysics
  • Bioengineering
  • Biomaterials
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomedical Engineering


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