Setting the standard for computer models of life

Biologists are making a concerted effort to catalogue all the molecular components of living things, from the smallest molecules and ions to the genetic code. These 'parts lists' help them to build computer models that simulate living processes. By combining models of simple processes they hope to understand and faithfully represent how entire biological systems - be they cells, organs, organisms or ecological niches - work. As well as contributing to the understanding of biology, this approach has numerous applications: for example, diseases can be simulated, and treatment regimens optimised.

"The computational systems biology community has made enormous progress in improving access to models," explains the EMBL-EBI's Nicolas Le Novre, lead author of the paper. "We've begun to share programming languages for encoding them (e.g. systems biology markup language, www.sbml.org) and to build public repositories so we can share them (e.g. www.ebi.ac.uk/biomodels). The current challenge is quality control: systems biologists won't use publicly available models if they can't search them properly, of if a model's reuse is hampered by a tiny mistake in the way that it's encoded. MIRIAM is an attempt to address these issues."

MIRIAM has two parts: (1) a set of checks that match a model to its description ('reference correspondence', often a publication in a scientific journal), and (2) a set of 'annotation schemes'. The first of these documents the model's provenance: who created it, whether it's been modified, and a stable link to its full description; the second scheme links the components of the model to relevant bioinformatics resources: for example, a model of alcohol metabolism in the liver would be annotated with links to the protein databases for all the enzymes involved in this pathway, and database links to all the relevant metabolites. The aim of these annotation schemes

Contact: Cath Brooksbank
European Molecular Biology Laboratory

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