The conventional belief about biology being a standalone subject was shattered quite a while back. Mendel incorporated statistical analysis to identify and demonstrate the concepts of heredity in living organisms. Though his findings were not widely accepted right away, yet they formed the basis for future genetics and molecular biology. And, we definitely have come a long way since then. Integration of different scientific areas with biology has paved the way for modern diagnostics and therapeutics. And now, we have another field that has, well, not only helped organize the collected information but also provided several tools for its analysis. When the scientists came together for the Human Genome Project, they recognized the need to manage the information in a way that is organized and readily accessible. Thus, the enormous amount of information collected from living beings has been stored as data that can be analyzed and interpreted with the science of bioinformatics.
Despite the buzz of bioinformatics, students often have the key questions – What is bioinformatics, what is the scope, and why should you learn it?
So, let’s start with what is bioinformatics?
Bioinformatics is the interdisciplinary science for the analysis and interpretation of biological information using the tools of computational analysis. A bioinformatician has to be well-versed in biology, mathematics, statistical analyses, and of course, computation languages (such as python, R).
Second, what is the scope of bioinformatics?
Bioinformatics is being widely used in industries, and its applications depend on the area and expertise. These applications can be categorized into the following domains:
- Modeling: For the estimation of 3D protein structures and prediction of molecular interactions
- Data processing: For processing and analyzing the data obtained from DNA, RNA, or protein sequencing
- Personalized medicine and gene therapy: For the development of customized medicines for patients based on their genetic constitution
- Data science: For the analysis and interpretation of existing data
- Virtual screening: For the discovery of new targets (such as drugs, drug sites, risk factors) from the available information using computational methods
The scope of bioinformatics, however, does not end here. The industrial requirements differ from the requirements of academic research, where the tools of bioinformatics are just as useful. These computational methods can be used for the analyses such as:
- To identify new genes and their functions
- To assess the function of a gene by identifying its similarity with the genes of other organisms
- To determine the risk potential of a disease in an individual or offspring based on his genetic constitution
- To identify gene polymorphisms (SNPs) in the population and their role in diseases
- To identify evolutionary relationships by developing phylogenetic trees
- To develop medicines for the prevention of the onset of genetic diseases
- To develop new and improved bioinformatics tools for data analysis
- To identify drug binding sites and predict new drugs based on their interactions
- To develop mathematical models for optimization of experimental protocols
The major advantage of bioinformatics is that it helps reduce the number of experiments required to identify the correct approach. Thus, the researchers only need to validate a few experiments based on the analysis and directly discard the others. This makes the process efficient and cost-effective. Another advantage of incorporating bioinformatics in research is that the numerous analytical computation tools are freely accessible globally. Researchers can solely focus on utilizing these tools without the need to know complex programming. But, of course, if you know how to code and develop computational tools, you can definitely accomplish more.
Finally, why should you learn it?
It is needless to determine the importance of bioinformatics. The list above is an indicator of its numerous applications. What’s really important is to know your career aspects before getting the specialization in a field. The field of bioinformatics is still in its nascent stages, and there is an ever-increasing requirement for bioinformatics professionals. As the research trends have evolved from analyzing a single gene or protein towards the simultaneous analysis of multiple genes or proteins, the field of bioinformatics will continue to adapt to these trends.
Although the field is filled with immense opportunities, yet the choice to study or not depends on a very simple principle – do you find it interesting? If you do, well, you will always find the right prospects.