Introduction to Bioinformatics

This web page was produced as an assignment for bioinformatics at Samford.

  • What is Bioinformatics?

Bioinformatics is a field of biology that works closely with Mathematics and Computer Science to analyze and understand biological processes. In essence, Bioinformatics could be described most simply as the marriage of Biology and Computer Science. Bioinformatics involves using computers and programs to analyze and decipher biological systems, including, but not limited to, Genomics (the study of DNA and its expression), Proteomics (the study protein expression and structures), and Pathways (complex life or chemical cycles that occur in organisms).

  • Why Bioinformatics?

Until recently, Biology has been a largely observational science. Unlike Chemistry and Physics, Biology has had to rely largely on careful labratory and field observations, rather than derived formulas or equations. With the advent of more powerful computers and the birth of computational science in the late 1970’s to early 1980’s, Biology has increasingly benefited from these new technologies. Today, Biologists studying the genome (the entire DNA sequence) of a primate were able to crunch the enormous numbers and calculations using modern supercomputers in one afternoon that would have taken over 30 years to perform on a personal computer. Why is this important? With the ability now to apply these powerful technologies to Biology, researchers are able to perform complex algorithms that will help humanity to better understand many concepts of life that were previously too complex to understand or calculate humanly.

  • How does Bioinformatics Apply to the World?

Humanity has much to gain from Bioinformatics. Bioinformatics significantly aided the development of “Golden Rice” , a lifesaving grain developed to produce healthy amounts of vitamin A (beta-carotene) in the seeds, first through the sequencing of rice’s DNA and later by identifying both the genes and the pathway necessary to make it possible. Around the world, especially in Africa and Southeast Asia, millions of people die of malnutrition each year. Many of these deaths could be prevented by the regular addition of vitamin A in their diets. “Golden Rice” was one of the first food crops developed to help meet this need, yet without Bioinformatics, this breakthrough would not have been possible.

Bioinformatics is also aiding researchers in developing better drugs to combat or prevent Malaria. The first draft of the Plasmodium (the parasite responsible for the disease) genome sequence was published in October 2002. Since then more complete drafts have been published, and it has given researchers and physicians a better understanding of malaria. Bioinformatics has also provided insight into the key genes and structures necessary for its survival. All of these have contributed to the increasing efforts to provide an effective treatment for malaria in the near future.

  • How does Bioinformatics Apply to You?

The use of Bioinformatics in the medical field, especially in research, is undeniable. However, its use in the treatment of patients is also increasing. According to the National Library of Medicine, there are over 900 genetic tests available to patients as of 2011. They list many useful purposes, including disease prevention, more effective and targeted pharmaceuticals, better treatments, etc. In the near future, researchers hope that medicine will become more personalized and focused on the individual, using treatments and medicines specifically chosen for each patient. They also hope that a significant boost in our understanding of disease and disorders will help us learn how to both prevent and better treat them. All of this is being accomplished be our  increasing knowledge of DNA in organisms and how different genes play a role in drug effectiveness and disease development. Bioinformatics is the engine behind this progress that will change how we approach medicine. This is certainly a very exciting time in the field of medicine as we develop a better understanding of the human genome and the mechanisms of disease.

Bioinformatics is being used in countless other research around the world to develop safer, more effective medicines, to better understand disease pathways, and to help us better understand life.

February 27, 2011

Biology 306

Samford University


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