What is Bioinformatics

Bioinformatics is an area of molecular biology that involves the use of information technology to support the work in the area. One significant area is that of databases, for the storing and manipulation of the biological data. Other areas include the use of algorithms and the use of various computational and statistical methods and theories in problem solving tasks in the area. The aim of bioinformatics is to draw on all of information technology available to advance biological understanding.

Originally begun in 1978, by Paulien Hogeweg, when studying biotic systems, bioinformatics is an area that continues to become increasingly important as the computer revolution continues, providing increasingly powerful computing power for analysis. It is vital for tasks such as the mapping and analysis of DNA sequences, for example. Modern computers can do cool things like allowing the viewing and manipulation of 3D models of proteins.

The earliest approaches in the area were database methods at the start of the so-called genomic revolution. This allowed the storing, accessing, and updating of data on sequences of nucleotides or amino acids, for example. This saw increasingly sophisticated interfaces being developed to aid researchers in their searches for information and the adding of new data.

But simply storing the data in a database was just the beginning of what bioinformatics had to offer. Later bioinformatics activities involved the development of methods for helping researchers to actually apply the data for a variety of purposes. In particular algorithms have been developed to uncover the relationships between different members of a large set of data. These can be used to find the location of gene along a particular sequence, for example.

Since 1977 many genes from many different organisms have been decoded. Databases have allowed all of this information to be stored and then accessed so that techniques of analysis can be applied. This has allowed similarities and differences between proteins within and across species to be analysed. It has allowed phylogenetic trees to be constructed, for example.

The amount of data being found in the molecular biology is now so great that it is fortunate that computer power continues to increase so rapidly. But even with present day computers there are still limitations on what can be done. The sequencing of large genomes can still take some time. The sequencing of the human genome during the Human Genome Project took several days of processing time just to assemble small DNA fragments of only around 700 nucleotides. But the computer revolution moves on at a fast pace and bioinformatics will continue its own revolution hand in hand with this.