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Bioinformatics is the study of the inherent structure of biological information
and biological systems. It brings together the avalanche of systematic
biological data (e.g. genomes) with the analytic theory and practical tools of
mathematics and computer science.
Over the last few decades, advances in molecular biology and
the equipment available for research in this field have allowed the
increasingly rapid sequencing of large portions of the genomes of several
species. In fact, to date, several bacterial genomes, as well as those of some
simple eukaryotes (e.g., Saccharomyces cerevisiae, or baker's yeast) have been
sequenced in full.
The Human Genome Project,
designed to sequence all 24 of the human chromosomes and the project
most associated with bioinformatics, has also been completed. The information
gathered is made public. Popular sequence databases, such as
GenBank and EMBL
, have been growing at exponential rates. This deluge of information has
necessitated the careful storage, organization and indexing of sequence
Information science has been applied to biology to produce the
field called Bioinformatics.
The simplest tasks used in bioinformatics concern the creation and maintenance
of databases of biological information. Nucleic acid sequences (and the protein
sequences derived from them) comprise the majority of such databases. While the
storage and organization of millions of nucleotides is far from trivial,
designing a database and developing an interface whereby researchers can both
access existing information and submit new entries is only the beginning.
The most pressing tasks in bioinformatics
involve the analysis of sequence information.
- Finding the genes in the DNA sequences of various
- Developing methods to predict the structure and/or
function of newly discovered proteins and structural RNA sequences.
- Clustering protein sequences into families of
related sequences and the development of protein models.
- Aligning similar proteins and generating
phylogenetic trees to examine evolutionary relationships.
The process of evolution has produced DNA sequences that
encode proteins with very specific functions. It is possible to predict the
three-dimensional structure of a protein using algorithms that have been
derived from our knowledge of physics, chemistry and most importantly, from the
analysis of other proteins with similar amino acid sequences.