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Bioinformatics: An introduction

Jun 28, 2001

Bioinformatics is the new mantra thatís invading and converging two new economy sectors, pharmaceuticals and IT. Bioinformatics is the field of biotechnology that allows the study of genes and proteins using computers and other forms of technology. It involves creating databases of genomes and protein sequences. It also involves methods to build 3-D models of proteins, which can show potential binding sites for drugs. The purpose of bioinformatics is to eventually be able to use technology to predict information about genes, given only its primary DNA sequence. Bioinformatics processes include homology searches, structure, function prediction, domain analysis, and Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP) mapping. Homology searching is a process where you can compare DNA or protein sequence to all sequences known. This whole process is run through software, and hence forms a basis of bioinformatics. As scientists discover more and more sequences, the database search becomes increasingly complex. A good database search can either identify your sequence or predict the function of your sequence by finding a similar sequence. Genes and proteins come in families. This known fact makes the process of sequence identification simpler. One method that assists in SNP changes may or may not cause noticeable changes in the DNA structure. However, even SNPís that do not cause a defect can still be useful, because they are often located very close to a mutation. If the SNP is repeatedly found located next to a mutation, then the identification of a SNP can serve as a diagnostic for a defect gene. In addition, studying shifts in SNPís between individuals can give scientists clues to the origin of humans and the link between different races.

SNPís can be identified using high throughput screening (HTS) and parallel analysis. HTS shows which compounds are insensitive to protein sequence variation. It allows for the stratification of patient populations by screening patient response to drug metabolism. This is used to reduce random side effects.

The market for bioinformatics - based services and databases is expected to well surpass US$ 2 bn in a couple of years, though a large part of the global bioinformatics market is centered around the US. India was amongst the first to coin the biotechnology word, with department of biotechnology setting up 9 distributed information centers way back in 1988. With strengths in mathematics, computing, physics and chemistry and above all low cost high quality IT, the country is well positioned ideally to emerge as a frontrunner in varied opportunities that bioinformatics offer.

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