Stem cells are undifferentiated biological cells that can differentiate into specialized cells and can divide to produce more stem cells. Stem cells can be used to repair damaged tissue and even grow into new organs. Even though Stem cells are used in come medical therapies, it is limited due to the highly complex web of genetic and environmental interactions based on which Stem cells can do either self-renewal or differentiation. Researchers are finding the way to determine the fate of any particular stem cell. A computational biologist at Microsoft Research in Cambridge has found a more deterministic, reliable method to do that. His method uses Microsoft’s Windows bug testing software which uses the technique called Formal Verification. Researchers have found they could use the software to predict with about 70 per cent accuracy how the cells would respond to genetic changes.
They used a technique pioneered at Smith’s lab that uses cultures of various inhibitory proteins to keep embryonic stem cells continually renewing themselves rather than differentiating into other cells. The team immersed the stem cells in four different types of these cultures and analysed which genes they expressed in which environment, and to what extent.
Next, to uncover the program that kept the cells in the unspecialised state, they turned to a mathematical technique called formal verification. Originally developed to detect and remove errors in software that keeps aircraft aloft and nuclear power plants safe, the technique is now widely used to eliminate bugs in commercial software, such as Microsoft’s Windows packages.
Formal verification examines the algorithms in a piece of software to check that the output will always be what the programmer intended. But it can also work back from the output to infer the nature of the algorithm creating it – just what Dunn’s team required.
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