Moselio Schaechter

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August 13, 2009

Biology By the Numbers

by Elio

Did you ever need to look up the volume of a cell or the cellular concentration of ATP, only to find yourself spending much more time than you wanted on the Internet or flipping through textbooks—all without much success?

Well, it didn’t happen only to you. It is often surprising how difficult it can be to find concrete biological numbers, even for properties that have been measured numerous times. To help solve this for one and all, BioNumbers (The Database of Useful Biological Numbers) was created. It enables you to find in a minute (or less) any common biological number that might be important for your research, such as the rate of translation per ribosome, metabolite concentrations, or the number of bacteria in your gut. Along with the numbers, you'll find the relevant references to the original literature, useful comments, and related numbers.

Bionumber screenshot short

BioNumbers is the product of two years of development, a joint effort by the systems biology department at Harvard Medical School and the Weizmann Institute in Israel, and currently draws over a hundred users daily. It is built as a collaborative, wiki-style, community effort. Each user can add new entries or comments, even ask for numbers that they couldn’t find—numbers needed for research or simply to satisfy curiosity. Curation is ensured by the requirement for a peer-reviewed reference followed by ongoing updating based on user feedback. Check it out here. Add a number. It might become the bion of the month.

Please send suggestions and comments to:

Our thanks to Ron Milo for calling this to our attention.


I'm so glad you are publicizing this site, Elio. I often get students asking me those kinds of questions (how much does E. coli weigh?). This is a good source for mathematical perspective of the small things around and within us.

International Symbiosis Society Congress in Madison is going well. I was called a "Microbial Supremacist" the other day. I conceded the elitism, but prefer to call it prokaryotic realism!

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