BIOINFORMATICS

WHAT IS BIOINFORMATICS?

It is the science of storing, analysing and retrieving the large amount of biological information. It is a highly interdisciplinary field involving many different types of specialists, including molecular life scientists, biologists, mathematicians and computer scientists. The term bioinformatics was by Paulien Hogeweg and Ben Hesper. They described it as "the study of informatic processes in biotic systems". It came into use when the first biological sequence data began to be shared. But the initial analysis methods are still being used in many large scale experiments in the molecular life sciences. These days, bioinformatics is considered to be a much broader discipline, encompassing image analysis and modelling in addition to the classical methods used for comparison of three-dimensional structures or linear sequences.

Earlier, Bioinformatics was used to describe the science of analysing and storing biomolecular sequence data, but now the term is used in a much wider sense, encompassing chemical biology, computational structural biology and systems biology.

DATA OF BIOINFORMATICS

The classic data of bioinformatics include three-dimensional structures of proteins; amino acid sequence of proteins; protein–nucleic acid complexes and DNA sequences of genes or full genomes. The data also include the pattern of RNA synthesis from DNA; the patterns of protein-protein and protein–nucleic acid interactions; the distribution of proteins in cell; the traffic pattern and nature of transformations of small molecules by the biochemical pathways active in cells.

STORAGE AND RETRIEVAL OF DATA

Data banks are used to organise and store the data. Many of these entities collect RNA and DNA sequences from scientific papers and genome projects. Many databases are controlled by international consortia. For example, the DNA Data Bank of Japan, GenBank of United States of America and European Nucleotide Archive in UK oversee the International Nucleotide Sequence Database Collaboration. There are genome database browsers that bring together all the available molecular and genomic information about the species. The worldwide Protein Data Bank is the major database of biological macromolecular structure.  It is a joint effort of the Research Collaborator for Structural Bioinformatics in the United States, the Protein Data Bank Japan at Osaka University and the Protein Data Bank Europe at the European Bioinformatics Institute in the United Kingdom. Information retrieval from the data archives utilises standard tools for identification of data items by keyword.

Bioinformatics is being used in the following fields:

  1. Preventative medicine
  2. Microbial genome applications
  3. Molecular medicine
  4. Antibiotic resistance
  5. Climate change
  6. Waste cleanup
  7. Gene therapy
  8. Drug development
  9. Evolutionary studies Biotechnology
  10. Development of Drought resistant varieties
  11. Study of  Alternative energy sources
  12. Bio-weapon creation  
  13. Crop improvement
  14. Forensic analysis
  15. Improve nutritional quality
  16. Insect resistance
  17. Veterinary Science

WHAT IS BIOPIRACY?

It is the term used to refer to the use of bio-resources by multinational companies and other organisations without proper authorisation from the countries and people concerned without compensatory payment.

Major industrialised nations are financially rich but are poor in traditional knowledge and biodiversity. Whereas underdeveloped and developing nations in the world are rich in traditional knowledge and biodiversity related to bio-resources. Traditional knowledge of bio-resources can be exploited to develop modern applications. The traditional knowledge can be used to save effort, time and expenditure during their commercialisation. There has been growing realisation of the inadequate compensation, injustice and benefit sharing between developed and developing countries. Hence, some nations are developing laws to prevent such unauthorised exploitation of their traditional knowledge and bio-resources.

THREATS POSED BY BIOPIRACY

  1. Knowledge and genetic resources belonging to a specific community, region or a country can be stolen or can be claimed by someone else.  
  2. Use of the genetic resource or knowledge in the area of its origin or traditional usage may be hampered.
  3. Patent holder can take unfair profit from the patent.
  4. Patent awarded or claimed unethically or illegally is bound to disturb an established system somewhere else in the world.

EXAMPLES OF BIOPIRACY

  • Patenting of Neem (Azadirachta indica)

Indians have used neem since the time immemorial. Even they have shared the knowledge of the properties of the neem with the entire world. In the early 90s, an American scientist named MNC W.R. Grace sought a patent from European Patent Office on neem oil. This is an example of biopiracy.

  1. Patenting of Basmati

Basmati is an aromatic, long-grained variety of rice indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. In 1997, US Patent and Trademark Office granted a patent to a Texas based American company named Rice Tec Inc. for “Basmati rice line and grains”.

WHAT IS BioGRID?

BioGRID stands for Biological General Repository for Interaction Datasets. It is an open access database for the purpose of curation and archival storage of genetic, protein and chemical interactions related to all major model organism species and humans.

It has a record for more than 7 lakh post translational modification sites. It also has chemical interaction data, including manually curated bioactive compounds reported in the literature and chemical-protein interactions for human drug targets drawn from the DrugBank database. The data in BioGRID is freely available to everyone without any restriction. The data is downloadable in standard formats.

Open Repository for CRISPR Screens database is an extension of the BioGRID resource database. It currently has more than 500 genome-wide screens carried out in human or mouse cell lines.

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