What is Bioinformatics?
is the application of methods from computer science to problems from the life sciences. High throughput experiments in chemistry, biology, medicine and pharmacology deliver a vast amount of data such as
- genome sequences
- protein expression profiles
- protein structures
- macromolecular interactions
Much of bioinformatics is centred about the analysis, interpretation and modelling of this data. If you are curious, have a look at 'papers for interested non-experts' or the research areas within the ZBH.
Much research is methodological. This means developing new techniques and software in a biological, chemical or medical context. This may mean distilling information from a biological database or predicting properties of a macromolecule such as its structure or interactions.
Much of the research is in applications. This might mean applying existing tools to specific medical or biological problems. It might mean finding patterns in a database or predicting the structure of a molecule thought to be involved in a disease.
Although it may have begun somewhere between computer and life sciences, bioinformatics has grown into a discipline in its own right.
The Center for Bioinformatics at the University of Hamburg has its focus on three main topics:
- genome informatics focuses on the development and application of algorithms and software for analysis of large sets of data, e.g. sequence sets and transcriptome data. These analyses include gene prediction, automated genomic annotation and genome comparison/alignment.
- Structural bioinformatics concentrates on model building and numerical simulation in areas such as protein or RNA structure and design of new molecules.
- Cheminformatics addresses algorithmic problems in the field of molecular recognition. This includes the analysis and prediction of interactions between biomolecules as well as the application of algorithmic methods in the design of new, pharmaceutically relevant drugs. In Hamburg, such methods are developed for virtual screening, design of molecular libraries and visualisation of molecular data for drug design.
A bioinformatics degree: Why?
For leading edge bioinformatics, it is not enough to have "biology and a bit of programming".
- Method developers need a thorough understanding of the applications. Modelling a problem is at the core of software development.
- When working on applications, one needs a deep understanding of the methods. One needs to know the limitations, problems and how to analyse the results.