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What is Bioinformatics?

Exactly what is meant by bioinformatics depends on whom you talk to.  To most people, bioinformatics is the applications of computer technologies to the biological sciences, particularly genomics, with the object of discovering knowledge.

This is often understood to include high-through output screening of genes and proteins, according to Paul Weber, Vice President of software consulting services for Tripos.

Anthony Kerlavage, Senior Director of Product Strategy at Celera Genomics, says bioinformatics is any application of computation to the field of biology, including data management, algorithm development and data mining.

Historically, says Steve Gardner, Vice President and Chief Technical Officer of Viaken, the term bioinformatics has related particularly to the biological entities involved in drug discovery process, covering genomics and proteomics.   Some time ago, he says, it started to get used in a wider context, describing everything in the discovery value chain.   "Everything upstream of genomics and proteomics through support for high-throughput screening, chemical information system, clinical data, the activity of drugs in the body-all of that got lumped in".   Gardner prefers to use "research informatics" to encompass this wider definition of bioinformatics.

From  the biologist's point of view, bioinformatics is a set of tools that allows the scientists to see cause-and-effect relationships between disease and polymorphisms, or difference in the DNA sequence among individuals, according to Rick Sheridian, Vice President of Information Science for PPGX From the view point of the drug discovery company, says Arnold Hagle, President and CEO of Structural Proteomics, bioinformatics is the use of computers in assigning function to proteins and in comparing protein-protein interactions in different protein families.   Bioinformatics is how the researcher transforms gene data to protein structure and correlates gene and protein functions.  Bioinformatics helps the researcher to "mine the data" in the gene sequences that have been discovered, he says.

Taking the broad view, bioinformatics is the application of software or information technology to biology and experimental medicine with the objective of discovering knowledge, says Alex Titomirov, Founder Chairman  and CEO of Informax.

An even broader view is supplied by Howard D. Goldstein,  President and CEO of Entigen.  Goldstein says bioinformatics is simply the management of biological information.

According to EliMintz, President of Compugen, the whole concept of bioinformatics will be gone in 10 or 20 years as biology undergoes a transformation into a more data-oriented science.  As the amount of biological data grows exponentially, biology will have to start using different tools.

Included in the bioinformatics realm is the technology needed to bring together groups of researchers from academia and industry so they can collaborate more effectively.  It is also necessary to bridge the gap between different types of data so that scientists and managers have access to as much information as possible in making decisions on which paths of research to pursue or kill.

Of course, the definition is just the start.  “The challenge in bioinformatics", says Kayle Hart, Director of Bioinformatics at Double Twist, "is knowing how to select and evaluate computational biology algorithms, knowing when to build your own, and knowing to make them all work together in a high-throughput manner to produce high quality results."