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Bioinformatics: What is it and how can it be helpful?

Knoxville, Tennessee

Bioinformatics, DNA, Double Helix, Human Genome Project
Bioinformatics Image

In this day and age, it is common for us to overlook the plethora of resources available, especially in the realm of science. An example of a lesser-known field that has particularly been impactful to scientific advancement is bioinformatics. This is the utilization of different tools and computer software to analyze and understand biological data, which is essential for the organization of information in modern biology and medicine. The introduction of the computer was a vital asset for the success of bioinformatics. With technological advancements, bioinformaticians were provided with the technology necessary for examining complex biological sequences and processes. Additionally, bioinformatics was first used in the 1960s and its main purpose was to help researchers gain a grasp of the molecular sequences of proteins. Researchers desired this knowledge so that they could more easily identify the structure of proteins and how they function in cellular processes. 

The very first wide-reaching bioinformatics endeavor was The Human Genome Project and it took place from 1990 to 2003. A number of researchers from across the globe came together with the goal to reveal the complete sequence of DNA bases in the human genome. With the aid of bioinformatic tools, researchers were able to calculate the expression levels of thousands of genes at the same time. Additionally, these tools allowed researchers to organize extensive amounts of genomic information quickly and accurately. By the completion of the project, the researchers were able to map the full 3.1 billion sequences. 

Bioinformatics, Double helix, project, DNA, Human Genome Project
Human Genome Project Logo

Since the Human Genome Project, there has been an increase of data surrounding DNA and the genome has called for computer databases that are efficient, user-friendly, and organized. Before access to advanced technology, the main hindrance to understanding bioinformatics was accessing biological information. The progress that has been made in reading DNA sequences has substantially helped to overcome that issue. Today, the main challenge for bioinformaticians is to make sense of the information that has been gathered. Data sets are typically very extensive, making it extremely helpful for scientists and researchers to use computers for analysis and interpretation. 

It is important to note that bioinformatic tools are largely accessible through websites and databases online. Because new data is constantly being released, there is not a singular database containing all information needed for bioinformatics. Instead, there are multiple databases with information not only for bioinformaticians, but also for other scientists, researchers, and clinicians.

The accessibility of bioinformatic resources is furthered by the fact that most databases are free to academics, lowering any cost-related barriers. Databases such as PubMed and OMIM (Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man) are referenced in situations to help make diagnoses and treatment plans. The database BLAST, created by NCBI, is used to organize, store, and examine protein sequences. 

The opportunities that bioinformatics offers have been extremely beneficial to the scientific community, paving the way for harnessing and understanding more complex data. As more bioinformatic tools are developed, there are increased chances for making sense of what occurs within and around us: opening our eyes to what would otherwise be unseen. 

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