The Virtual Heart


Take for example,
the virtual heart.


What if this simulator
also models lungs,
eyes, the circulatory
system, kidneys and bones—yes,
the entire human body?

And what if you cannot only run
your hunches, but the heart itself
becomes the source of hunches
as you play around, changing

a molecular structure here,
the work of a protein there.


this is less like a crash–test dummy,
more like a tool for designing a new car—

only it’s the human system, a machine
many times more complex than your neighbour’s Porsche.


Dubbed in silico biology,
the emerging discipline combines
computer science, physiology,
engineering; creates digital simulations
of bloody biological systems.


The physiome project
meets in St Petersburg,
aims to collect all known information
on the human body—
to reconstruct data
into cells,
the whole human body.

extend beyond drug discovery
into prosthetics, tailoring devices
to unique musculoskeletal needs;
into the treatment of injuries,
modelling damaged bones,
nerves and ligaments; also,
past the frontiers of surgery—providing precise maps
of where to cut.


A New Jersey consortium
has created its own machinery—algorithms,
software programs and a new language
to condense all the data into one universal code.

To get a sense of how complex the language is,
consider this simple task—

how to model
a beating mammalian heart?


Anna Livesey is a Wellington writer.