DEFINITION of Bioinformatics

Bioinformatics is the application of computational technology to handle the rapidly growing repository of information related to molecular biology. Bioinformatics combines different fields of study, including computer sciences, molecular biology, biotechnology, statistics and engineering. It is particularly useful for managing and analyzing large sets of data, such as those generated by the fields of genomics and proteomics.

BREAKING DOWN Bioinformatics

While the field of bioinformatics has existed for decades, the catalyst for its rapid growth in the current millennium came from the Human Genome Project, a landmark international scientific research project completed in April 2003 that made available for the first time the complete genetic blueprint of a human being.

Bioinformatics Applications

Bioinformatics finds application in a growing number of areas, such as gene sequencing, gene expression studies and drug discovery. For example, in medicine, bioinformatics can be used to identify links between specific diseases and the gene sequences that cause them. The field of pharmacogenomics uses bioinformatics data to tailor medical treatments to the patients who take them, based on their DNA. Bioinformatics can also be used to develop more effective vaccines through the development of new, stronger antibodies.

Objectives of Bioinformatics

The field of bioinformatics has three main objectives: To organize vast reams of molecular biology data in an efficient manner; to develop tools that aid in the analysis of such data; and to interpret the results accurately and meaningfully. The advent and rapid rise of bioinformatics has been due to the massive increases in computing power and laboratory technology in recent years. These advances have made it possible to process and analyze the digital information – DNA, genes and genomes – at the heart of life itself.

As bioinformatics can be used in any system where information can be represented digitally, it can be applied across the entire spectrum of living organisms, from single cells to complex ecosystems.

To get an idea of the staggering amounts of data and information that bioinformatics has to deal with, consider the human genome. A genome is an organism’s complete set of DNA. DNA molecules are made of two twisting, paired strands, and each strand is made of nucleotide bases – adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G), and cytosine (C). The human genome contains about 3 billion of these base pairs. Genome sequencing involved figuring out the exact order of all 3 billion of these DNA nucleotides, a feat which would not have been possible without massive amounts of computing power.