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What is Bioinformatics?

written by: Finn Orfano • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 7/11/2008

As the title shows, it consists of two parts of "Bio" and "Informatics". Bio stands for biology, and informatics, stands for information, and informational process techniques.

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    What's the basic definition of bioinformatics? As the title shows, it consists of two parts, "Bio" and "Informatics". Bio stands for biology, and informatics, stands for information, and informational process techniques.

    When you have a National Informatics Center, it would mean a site where you expect to find all information about the Nation at that Center. While you can expect the National Informatics Center to be quite a large one, you cannot imagine how big and huge and awesome in size a site on Bioinformatics can be.  It literally contains trillions and trillions of terabytes of information relating to biology and its allied sciences. All research work on biology, and information on biology is stored on that subject across trillions of computers, and in databases which would boggle the mind.

    Imagine storing information on each and every cell of the human body, the DNA structure of various individuals, the RNA structure of various humans and other living species, the millions and millions of proteins, their variants, their cross mutations, the RNA, the genetic codes of people, plants, and living mammals stored, the various interplays between the DNA/RNA./Genetic codes, proteins, vitamins, the information about what research has resulted in, and what remains, and you should have a rough idea. And you would be far wrong in your estimation of the size!

    Yet, that information is so valuable that researchers and scientists spend countless hours in preserving, enriching, and adding data to it. Their hope is that someone, somewhere, will find a use for it. That someone will be able to come up with an alternative model which would explain the mysteries that were eluding them about proteins, vitamins, the functions of the biological system (which are yet to be understood), the complex communication systems inside the physiological body of humans and mammals, plants, the genetic codes of plants, the hybrid seeds, and so forth.

    There is so much raw data that is available and collected meticulously that it requires a whole array of hyper fast computers to decode a particular sequence. Add to that the mystery of how to crack a particular protein or an enzyme. You need whole sets of math models, and simulation model software to decode this data, analyze and come up with complex solutions further requiring verifying, using to de-mystify, and verify again. And back you go again, if you find something which not quite in sync, because another researcher has come up with a block to your possible answer. So many algebraic formulas, so many complex equations, so many algorithms known to man are used that it is mind boggling.

    It takes years of study, research, and work to accomplish this. Work is often in teams with not only researchers, but with professionals in every discipline, particularly math whiz kids or professors, in order to come up with software that can possibly help. Everyday throws up new challenges for the researcher, software consultant, math whiz and countless others involved.

    Yet, at the end of the day, the light has been sighted. Whether it is enough or not is for the scientists to say. But yes, that light at the end of the tunnel offers a ray of hope that one day we will reach the goal of discovery.

    Some have already made their way to the public domain. For instance, it is known that some proteins, identified immediately after a heart attack, can be blocked by using some other protein blocker, called beta blockers. Some have found that some compounds reduce the number of rather difficult cases of Alzhemier’s disease, or even prevent possible renal failure or carcinoma, simply by analyzing the protein content in urine. In agriculture, the hybrid seeds or the genetic variations introduced also represent some of the successes in which bioinformatics has played its part.

    Bioinformatics thus plays a very important and crucial role in helping the medical and research professionals in unraveling the mysteries of the diverse biological specimens that inhabit the earth. If this career choice sounds fascinating to you, read this article on How You Can Get the Skills You Need to Pursue a Career in Bioinformatics.