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Bioinformatics or computational biology is the branch of biology which is concerned by the processing of experimental data using computers. It can also be defined as the application of computer science to biology.

Active fields of research

Although computational biology has existed almost as long as digital computers, the use of computers for the analysis of biological data has become crucial in the 1990's with the explosion of genomic data. The word bioinformatics itself was coined in the same period (in 1988 by HA Lim among others) and the discipline is now recognized as essential by molecular biologists.

The popularity and the importance of bioinformatics today is a direct consequence of the success of molecular biology since the 1980's. Molecular biology provides a set of biomolecular tools which allow fast and massive sequencing of genes and gene products in various organisms. Therefore, the most well-known use of bioinformatics concerns nucleic acids (DNA, mRNAs), proteins, their interactions and their relationships across time and across organisms. The ultimate goal is to understand the role and/or the origin of each of these constituents.

Bioinformatics is however not limited to the study of biomolecules. Other important fields of application include biomedical imagery, ecology (ecoinformatics), rational drug design (cheminformatics).

Bioinformatics should not be confused with the process of using biological material to produce computers such as DNA computing, or the design of algorithms which are inspired by living organisms such as neural networks.

Bioinformaticians: who are they?

Bioinformatics is considered by many as a subfield of biology rather than computer science, since the ultimate goal is to expand our knowledge of biological systems. However, many specialized bioinformaticians do not perform experiments by themselves. Rather, they study experimental data provided by other biologists and in return propose interpretations that can help them experiment further, in the right direction.

Bioinformatics is a challenging field of research, which requires a good understanding of biology as well as good computer science skills. Some bioinformaticians are more interested in creating and implementing new algorithms for solving existing problems. Other prefer to analyze biological data by using and combining existing tools, often in collaboration with biologists from the wet lab.

Further reading

  1. Bioinformatics article at Wikipedia [wikipedia]
  2. isbn:0471478784. [baxevanis]
  3. isbn:0764516965. [claverie]
  4. Michael S. Waterman. Introduction to computational biology. London: Chapman & Hall, 1995. isbn:0412993910. [waterman]
  5. David W. Mount. Bioinformatics. Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 2001. isbn:0879696087. [mount]
  6. Pavel A. Pevzner. Computational molecular biology. Cambridge, Mass.; MIT Press, 2000. isbn:0262161974. [pevzner]



  • Martin Jambon started this article with "Definition", "Active fields of research" and "Bioinformaticians: who are they?"
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