AgentCell was made possible by agent-based software, which researchers developed to simulate stock markets, social behavior and warfare. Argonne's Macal and North contributed their agent-based software expertise to the project. Macal and North operate Argonne's Center for Adaptive Systems Simulation.
Cluzel's laboratory began its collaboration with Macal and North following a suggestion by Robert Rosner, Argonne's Director and the William Wrather Distinguished Service Professor in Astronomy & Astrophysics at the University of Chicago. Before shifting to Cluzel's lab, Emonet worked with Rosner in devising simulations to understand how the sun reverses its magnetic field every 11 years.
Each digital cell in AgentCell is a virtual Escherichia coli, a single-celled bacterium, which is equipped with all the virtual components necessary to search for food. These digital E. coli contain their own chemotaxis system, which transmits the biochemical signals responsible for cellular locomotion. They also have flagella, the whiplike appendages that cells use for propulsion, and the motors to drive them.
Emonet and his associates have designed their digital bacterial system in modules, so that additional components may be added later.
"Right now it's a very simple model," Emonet said. "Basically the only thing those cells have is a sensory system." But additional components that simulate other biological processes--cell division, for example--can also be introduced. And the software is available to other members of the research community for the asking. "The hope is that people will modify the code or add some new capabilities. The code will soon be available for download from our Web site, http://www.agentcell.org," Emonet said.