Why is bioinformatics important?
In a recent article, my colleague Marcin explained what exactly bioinformatics is. Here, I’ll dive a little deeper into its role in the current world of science.
How is bioinformatics changing scientific processes worldwide?
In order to understand the place of bioinformatics in modern science, we should go through some basics.
Besides biology and programming, bioinformatics also utilizes solutions and tools from mathematics, chemistry, physics, and statistics. The main goal is to analyze, interpret, archive, and visualize biological data. In the last several years, bioinformatics-related projects significantly accelerated research in genome analysis, evolutionary biology, immunoinformatics, and more. But what makes bioinformatics so revolutionary? It primarily comes down to data management.
The overwhelming amount of data generated in laboratories forces companies and scientists to develop new solutions to handle it. Modern bioinformatics tools are fueled by technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence to facilitate and automate processes. Thanks to bioinformatics tools and tons of publicly available data, scientists are able to truly understand and make actual use of the information that we have been gathering as humanity in the last two centuries.
But the influence of bioinformatics tools on scientific processes goes beyond data management and analysis. There is more and more software available that helps scientists with aspects like laboratory processes and visualizations. Nevertheless, the truth is that data sharing is what fuels a majority of bioinformatics-related software tools.
What is the potential of bioinformatics?
The omnipresent influence of bioinformatics on biology-related industries and fields of study is only going to increase. There’s an enormous potential for studying molecular mechanisms, proteins, genome, small RNA, medicine, and more. The ability to analyze data allows us to understand the functions of biological molecules better. With that knowledge, scientists will be able to test various scenarios in silico, predict possible outcomes, and develop much more effective drugs.
In the same vein, there’s immense potential in personalized medicine, a method in which drugs and therapies are prepared very accurately for a particular patient. Using bioinformatics algorithms, doctors will be able to make much more informed, data-based decisions in terms of treatment.
The role of new technologies in bioinformatics
In 2020, researchers at MIT had identified an antibiotic compound that can eliminate many types of bacteria, including some of the most problematic and deadly for humans. The compound was named halicin, and it turned out to be much more effective than those currently used. Moreover, it was able to kill some species of bacteria that previously couldn’t be dealt with. Most importantly, it was found thanks to machine learning.
The story is a fantastic indication of what Industry 4.0 technologies can do for bioinformatics. Using new data analytics algorithms, scientists can screen millions of different compounds in a few days to search for a specific one that will be able to cure or prevent a particular disease.
Another fascinating example is AlphaFold, an artificial intelligence-based software designed to predict protein structures. The system utilizes deep learning, which helped it achieve significantly better results compared to any other program. AlphaFold’s AI was “trained” for two weeks on 170 000 proteins from the public repository. During that time, it analyzed and compared sequences and structures of proteins to build predictive algorithms for proteins that are not yet known. It is assumed that the tool can be immensely helpful to find cures for many diseases caused by parasites (e.g., malaria, sleeping sickness) because they are linked to unknown protein structures.
Additionally, bioinformatics tools use image and signal processing to extract significant pieces of information from large sets of data. With the help of new technologies, scientists are finally able to comprehend all gathered information fully. The impact of bioinformatics for fields of study such as genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, and transcriptomics is enormous.
Which industries are using bioinformatics tools and methods?
Perhaps the most significant industry that utilizes bioinformatics is drug discovery. The evolution of new technologies allowed pharmaceutical companies to completely change the process of drug development. Using data extraction methods, it’s possible to almost completely automate the initial drug development phase of finding the most promising compound candidates. The other crucial aspect is a much better knowledge about the human genome and identifying genes that can play a relevant role in drug therapies.
There’s also vast potential in agriculture and animal husbandry. Bioinformatics tools may play a fundamental role in development of stronger, more resistant and, healthier crops. That, of course, increases the quality and nutritional value of food for both humans and animals. In terms of veterinary sciences, there already are known genome sequencing projects that resulted in the health improvement of livestock.
Another interesting industry is environmental protection. The understanding of bacteria and microbe DNA sequencing may lead us to solutions for sewage clean-up and minimizing the tragic effects of oil spills. Of course, it’s just a few of hundreds of possible applications.
Bioinformatics from the software agency’s perspective
As a bioinformatics-oriented agency, we’re proud to be a part of this revolutionary movement. Creating software that really helps scientists is something motivating and addictive, especially because many of us in Code Poets have a scientific background, so we feel a close connection to our brothers and sisters in lab coats.
In the case of Merck, we’ve helped develop Synthia, an app for retrosynthesis. It has over 100000 chemical reaction patterns and an extensive library of known substances. The app allows scientists to discover ways to synthesize particular compounds. It’s the most advanced tool available on the market. Each reaction pattern in the app was based on proven academic studies, which makes Synthia incomparably more accurate than other similar tools.
The other bioinformatics project we’ve worked on was ESP (Enterprise Scientific Platform), which is an app for designing, implementing, and controlling laboratory processes. Using the app, scientists can create A-Z lab procedures with detailed instructions for further workers to follow. The system helps to keep processes perfectly rigid, limits the possibility of human error, and significantly lowers the cost of training.
So if you’re looking for a bioinformatics-oriented team of devs that understand science terminology and methodologies, seek no more. We’re here for you. Let us know about your project.