Computational Biology and Bioinformatics
Computational Biology and Bioinformatics involve the application of computational methods to understanding biological data, especially molecular biological data. This includes tasks such as analyzing DNA sequences to identify genes and regulatory elements, simulating molecular dynamics, studying the 3D structure of biomolecules such a nucleic acids or proteins, reconstructing ancestral relationships between species, inferring chemical or functional relationships between different types of molecules, and storing, analyzing and linking large and heterogeneous databases of biological information.
Bioinformatics and computational biology, along with advances in biotechnologies for detecting and quantifying biomolecules of various kinds, are leading the way in modern molecular biology research. For example, the Human Genome Project, which succeeded in 2003 in producing the first coherent map of the 3 billion nucleotides in human DNA, would have been impossible without computers to store the results of sequencing experiments and to robustly assembly sequence fragments into an overall map. The ENCODE project, which seeks to understand the functions of the different parts of the genome, and the International HapMap Project which studies the variations in DNA between people and associations of the variations with disease, are all the more dependent on computerized methods to collect, coordinate and analyze data from a diversity of sources. Bioinformatics and computational biology are not used only in large, international projects, however. They are increasing used in the labs of individual researchers, to generate hypotheses about genetic function and regulation, to understand how cells sense, process and store information, to uncover genetic causes of disease, distinguish disease subtypes or predict the efficacy of different treatments, and to map the evolution of gene and protein families... to name just a few applications.