PageRank, the algo­rithm used by Google to mea­sure the rel­a­tive impor­tance of web­sites on the Internet, could be used to shed light on the orga­ni­za­tional prin­ci­pals of other com­plex net­work sys­tems, such as the human body, say North­eastern Uni­ver­sity researchers.

World-​​renowned net­work sci­en­tist Albert-​​László Barabási, and Gourab Ghoshal, a post­doc­toral research asso­ciate in Barabási’s lab at North­eastern, recently ana­lyzed the rev­o­lu­tionary link analysis algo­rithm used by the pop­ular search engine.

The find­ings were pub­lished in the July 19 issue of the journal Nature Communications.

PageRank, researchers found, can be far more than the back-​​end tool used by Google to help web geeks find the latest Internet meme in record time. In cel­lular net­works, PageRank could help sci­en­tists iden­tify pro­teins that play impor­tant roles in cancer.

As Ghoshal put it, “You can examine how pro­teins interact with each other and then iden­tify genes based on their PageRank value that are impor­tant in deter­mining cancer.”

The effec­tive­ness of the PageRank algo­rithm depends on the sta­bility of the struc­ture within which data are ranked.

Had the World Wide Web not fol­lowed the struc­ture that it does, then PageRank would have been much less effec­tive in pro­viding us with the most per­ti­nent web pages,” said Barabási, a Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor of Physics with joint appoint­ments in biology and the Col­lege of Com­puter and Infor­ma­tion Sci­ence, and the founding director of Northeastern’s Center for Com­plex Net­work Research.

The latest paper builds upon ear­lier research fea­tured in the May 12 issue of Nature, in which Barabási and his post­doc­toral research asso­ciate, Yang-​​Yu Liu, exam­ined the ways in which greater con­trol of com­plex sys­tems such as cel­lular net­works or social media, can be achieved by merging the tools of net­work sci­ence and con­trol theory.

In June, Barabási was hon­ored with the Insti­tute for Sci­en­tific Inter­change Foundation’s 2011 Lagrange-​​CRT Foun­da­tion Prize for his body of research on com­plex net­works in nat­ural, tech­no­log­ical and social systems.

View selected pub­li­ca­tions of Albert-​​László Barabási in IRis, Northeastern’s dig­ital archive.