In silico

In silico is an expression used to mean "performed on computer or via computer simulation." The phrase is coined in analogy the Latin phrases in vivo and in vitro which are commonly used in biology (see also systems biology) and refer to experiments done in living organisms and outside of living organisms, respectively. Contrary to widespread belief, in silico does not mean anything in Latin.


The expression in silico was first used in public in 1989 in the workshop "Cellular Automata: Theory and Applications" in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Pedro Miramontes, a mathematician from National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) presented the report "DNA and RNA Physicochemical Constraints, Cellular Automata and Molecular Evolution". In his talk, Miramontes used the term "in silico" to characterize biological experiments carried out entirely in a computer. The work was later presented by Miramontes as his PhD dissertation.

In silico has been used in white papers written to support the creation of bacterial genome programs by the Commission of the European Community. The first referenced paper where "in silico" appears was written by a French team in 1991. The first referenced book chapter where "in silico" appears was written by Hans B. Sieburg in 1990 and presented during a Summer School on Complex Systems at the Santa Fe Institute.

In silico versus in silicio

"In silico" was briefly challenged by "in silicio," which is correct Latin for "in silicon" (the Latin term for silicon, silicium, was created at the beginning of the 19th century by Berzelius). On the other hand, a phrase "in silice" means "in flint" in Latin. "In silico" was perceived as catchier, possibly through similarity to the word "silicate." "In silico" is now almost universal; it even occurs in a journal title (In Silico Biology:

The phrase "in silico" originally applied only to computer simulations that modeled natural or laboratory processes (in all the natural sciences), and did not refer to calculations done by computer generically.

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