What is bioinformatics: everything you need to know

Article written by CEMP's team

Advances in Molecular Biology, the discovery of DNA… Bioinformatics have played a key role in these developments. A field that, since then, has demonstrated computing can be not only useful for work, but also our health. Today, the concept has evolved towards new and unexpected biological applications. What is bioinformatics, then? Find out here!


What is bioinformatics: definition of a new scientific field

To those unfamiliar with science, the word might serve as a clue. Biology and informatics walk hand in hand in this new area because, even considering precedent technologies, they have evolved as networks evolved too.

When we consider “what is bioinformatics”, we refer to a discipline focused on the use of computing to deal with biological data. Their techniques facilitate medical investigations and allow certain applications to take place, improving people’s lives or even saving them.

Briefly put, we could say that this discipline is about applying Big Data to biological information to get to know it in a deep sense and discover solutions to problems. For instance, bioinformatics can thus deal with the data produced by metabolic, genomic or proteomic technologies. It can also be applied to information obtained through epidemiologic investigations or clinical databases.


The goals of bioinformatics: what is bioinformatics used for?

Human beings themselves are at the center of the goals of bioinformatics. In the current world, data have proven to be a powerful source of information and, if there’s an area where this power should not be underestimated, it’s the health sciences.

Computing, its languages and its technologies allow us to collect data, but also process it. Bioinformatics keep and analyze biological figures related to live beings and can reach conclusions about them by applying mathematical models. 

The main goals of this scientific field include the following:

Data organization

We’re surrounded by data and everyday we produce more of them. Bioinformatics convert this enormous volume of information into something useful by storing and extracting relevant figures so that researchers can work with them.

In order to do so, this discipline creates databases where biological data can be stores. These “archives” are highly useful and are normally accessible through the Internet for experts to employ them.

Analysis: what the numbers hide

Many times, a database can be similar to a skein of tangled yarn. In order to be able to use it, first you must untangle it.

This is what bioinformatics do with data in containers. This discipline develops tools for data analysis with mathematical algorithms in order to find patterns and extract answers of what, up until now, was just an unending column of data in an Excel file.

Result interpretation

The next step is to act accordingly to the results. Research is the essence of what is bioinformatics. Once comparisons have been made, similitudes have been found and massive sequencing finished, conclusions can be obtained, allowing for a better knowledge of biological systems and use it, for instance, to develop medicines or describing in detail the genome of new organisms.


What about informatics?

Within bioinformatics, computational sciences play a key role. Informatics is the field within engineering that encompasses hardware, networks and software for the processing of information, all of which are immensely useful for biology.

This discipline has grown to become a huge revolution for human communication systems. This is also true for entertainment purposes or even the building of infrastructures, as shown by the Internet of Things and Smart Cities.

This field includes two big elements: hardware or the physical part (such as computers) and software or programs. As time went by, these stopped being the only specializations within this discipline, which joined others to give birth to concepts such as Information Technologies, applied to the business sector,  or bioinformatics, our subject in this article.


Origin and evolution of bioinformatics

When did people start asking themselves “what is bioinformatics”? It was in the 1950s, when the field was particularly focused on computational biology.

At the time, computing applications were used to analyze protein and DNA sequences. This molecule in particular, each live being’s genetic ID, shaped the earlier stages of this discipline.

Biologists James Dewey Jackson and Francis Harry Compton Crick discovered the double helix in DNA’s chemical structure. Later, halfway through the decade, British expert Frederick Sanger made use of bioinformatics to sequence the first protein, bovine insulin. 

During those early years there were also feminine names, such as Margaret Dayghoff. In the 60s, she developed the outline for systematization Atlas of protein sequence and structure, a vital support for current investigations.

The birth of ARPANET (a forerunner to the current version of the Internet) was decisive to build the current importance of bioinformatics. At the time, only two years after its invention, the Protein Data Bank was created, a pioneer within electronic storage systems.


Transforming the concept of “what is bioinformatics”

As time went by, the way in which this discipline was seen also changed. The beginning of this transformation took place in the 1980s, when a multitude of algorithms such as FASTA were developed and the Human Genome Project was first started.

The creation of new programs and databases was the main focus during those years, which led to a new, more research-based perspective during the 1990s, and ended up turning into a scientific discipline on its own.

During those years, computation started being used to search for links between mutations or figure out more about the evolution of organisms. 

In the first decade of the new Millenium, a number of answers were found, such as the complete sequencing of the human genome, as well as that of cat’s and chimpanzée’s. The National Institute of Bioinformatics was born and the first draft of the human proteome was published.


The important applications of bioinformatics

We’ve learned the answer to “what is bioinformatics” but, how is it applied? What tangible results can we extract from this discipline?

This is a field where a multitude of useful possibilities exist, and where new advantages are revealed every decade. These are some of this field’s applications: 

  • Analysis of sequences and genomes: mapping biology in different live beings allows us to determine the similarities between species and understand how each of their characteristics are shaped. Today, their techniques are also being used to determine the genomics of coronavirus, this century’s great pandemic. 
  • Find medicines: bioinformatics can set the foundations to create medicines that help improve patient’s quality of life. In some cases, certain personalized medicines are already being generated for particular population segments according to their genetic characteristics, thus reducing some associated secondary effects.
  • Predict illnesses: the management of big data facilitated by this discipline allows us to compare evolutive patterns in illnesses and, as such, achieve quicker diagnostics.
  • Software development: bioinformatics have served us to design programs based in biological processes, such as Artificial Neural Networks.


Join the future: how to work in bioinformatics

Although the history of bioinformatics goes back a few decades, everything seems to signal that this scientific discipline’s history has just started. The answer to “what is bioinformatics” will probably continue evolving in the coming years thanks to the work of thousands of professionals.

In order to become one of them, it’s necessary to live between biology, programming and mathematics. It’s vital to have a good scientific base and analytical capacity that allows you to unfold huge volumes of data.

As bioinformatics stand at the center between biology and informatics, you will also need knowledge in computational languages such as Python, the development of algorithms and the main omics. Statistics will be the main foundation for you to develop your career in one of the most futuristic fields in the current market, as well as one of the most useful.

A good way to acquire these very specific knowledge is by joining our Master’s degree in Biostatistics and Bioinformatics. At CEMP, we offer a training program taught by computer specialists, biochemists and experts in biotechnology and molecular sciences.

Our teaching team is exceptionally qualified to guide you in your new path in this career. Besides, you’ll be able to start your professional network thanks to carrying out an internship in a company as part of your master’s.

If you’ve grown to be fascinated by bioinformatics, we guarantee that getting trained in the field will only help feed that fire. Get trained and be part of the professionals finding the answers of the future!

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