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An intro to bioinformatics

written by: Finn Orfano • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 7/31/2008

Bioinformatics is a combination of biology and data bases, one way to consider it is that it is a combination of many ways to get information on all things biological from any applicable databases that are present.

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    Bioinformatics is a combination of biology and data bases, one way to consider it is that it is a combination of many ways to get information on all things biological from any applicable databases that are present. In this field you actually have a combination of two fairly divergent areas coming together for a common goal. The scientists and researchers who make up the bioinformatics field do not always see each other’s particular scopes of view, but what they do share is a common view and this is to locate, analyze and decipher the genomic in its entirety. By using the most technological data gathering and sharing means the scientists are closing in more and more on codes they once had no hope of even cracking.

    Once the genomic code was broken, the researchers were still unable to put parts of it together because the work was so slow and laborious and they were limited to one piece of code at a time. With the onset of newer and better computer technology and programs the scientists were able to have programs worked out that were quite specific for the work they needed done. One way of looking at the bioinformatics field is to think of it as someone who combines the best qualities of data mining and retrieval with specific programs with a broad understanding of the biology behind what is hoped to be found or produced.

    For bioinformatics to work, both spheres of the field have to be brought together harmoniously. If you have people working who only understand one half of the entire operation, there is no way that they can apply sound principles to the completion of the project. In other words if a biologist tells a data miner to enter information such as genome sequences into a computer and then look for certain patterns or trends and retrieve these trends as they relate to other patterns they need for the person who is mining the data to have a thorough understanding of genome sequences and the types of patterns that would be most applicable to the hypotheses. A bioinformatics specialist is capable of doing these types of quantitative analyses. If this information is not understood there is little hope of obtaining the correct and total amount of data.

    Perhaps someone is a whiz at computers and can retrieve a piece of data the size of a needle from a virtual silver haystack, can they find a home in the field of bioinformatics?

    The answer is yes. There will be some training necessary should you be considering the field. You can not make the transition with Bio 101; you will need some bones for this job. You must be comfortable enough with your understanding of biology and some chemistry to be able to converse intelligently with your coworkers and you need to understand what it is they hope to find. Much of the work in the bioinformatics field does center around genes and genomic codes, so you need to focus on learning about DNA, RNA and how the genomic code is actually translated. The relationship between genes and proteins is one of the basic facts that you must understand because this relation is at the heart of much of the research.

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