Reprinted with permission
What is Bioinformatics
What bioinformatics really is, is the use of computer technology to get at the information thats stored in certain types of biological data."
By Steve Starger
With recent news stories pounding us with tales of genetically altered
foods, human cloning, and other subjects that were once the province of
science fiction writers and social critics, its hard to get a handle
on whats really happening in the brave new world of genetics.
Well, you might be surprised to learn that none of this is really new,
at least to biologists and computer scientists.
The science of bioinformatics the computer systems that extract
the information that researchers use to find disease cures and open other
new worlds has been around since the 1960s, according to Dr. Susan
Smith, a professor and research biologist at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute,
in Troy, NY, and its sister institution, Rensselaer at Hartford, a graduate
studies center in Connecticuts capital city.
In biology studies, bioinformatics is an essential tool now, Smith said. All of our first-year biology graduate students take bioinformatics. Rensselaer also offers an undergraduate major in bioinformatics and molecular biology.
So, what is bioinformatics?
As Smith explains, What bioinformatics really is, is the use of
computer technology to get at the information thats stored in certain
types of biological data. For that to make sense, the kind of data that
most people use, when they talk about bioinformatics, is sequenced data.
That, Smith continues, means, essentially, DNA molecules.
That is the essence of bioinformatics, Smith said, and to retrieve that
kind of information requires creating huge databases designed especially
for storing that specific information, and writing computer programs that
can search for things youre interested in.