Bio- Informatics

Over the past few decades, major advances in the field of molecular biology, coupled with advances in genomic technologies, have led to an explosive growth in the biological information generated by the scientific community. This deluge of genomic information has, in turn, led to an absolute requirement for computerized databases to store, organize, and index the data and for specialized tools to view and analyze the data.

Bioinformatics is the field of science in which biology, computer science, and information technology merge to form a single discipline. The ultimate goal of the field is to enable the discovery of new biological insights as well as to create a global perspective from which unifying principles in biology can be discerned. At the beginning of the "genomic revolution", a bioinformatics concern was the creation and maintenance of a database to store biological information, such as nucleotide and amino acid sequences. Development of this type of database involved not only design issues but the development of complex interfaces whereby researchers could both access existing data as well as submit new or revised data.

Ultimately, however, all of this information must be combined to form a comprehensive picture of normal cellular activities so that researchers may study how these activities are altered in different disease states. Therefore, the field of bioinformatics has evolved such that the most pressing task now involves the analysis and interpretation of various types of data, including nucleotide and amino acid sequences, protein domains, and protein structures. The actual process of analyzing and interpreting data is referred to as computational biology. Important sub-disciplines within bioinformatics and computational biology include:

  • the development and implementation of tools that enable efficient access to, and use and management of, various types of information
  • the development of new algorithms (mathematical formulas) and statistics with which to assess relationships among members of large data sets, such as methods to locate a gene within a sequence, predict protein structure and/or function, and cluster protein sequences into families of related sequences

The rapidly emerging field of bioinformatics promises to lead to advances in understanding basic biological processes and, in turn, advances in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of many genetic diseases. Bioinformatics has transformed the discipline of biology from a purely lab-based science to an information science as well. Increasingly, biological studies begin with a scientist conducting vast numbers of database and Web site searches to formulate specific hypotheses or to design large-scale experiments. The implications behind this change, for both science and medicine, are staggering.


A Tool for Visualizing Whole Genomes or Single Chromosomes

NCBI's Map Viewer is a tool that allows a user to view an organism's complete genome, integrated maps for each chromosome (when available), and/or sequence data for a genomic region of interest. When using Map Viewer, a researcher has the option of selecting either a "Whole-Genome View" or a "Chromosome or Map View". The Genome View displays a schematic for all of an organism’s chromosomes, whereas the Map View shows one or more detailed maps for a single chromosome. If more than one map exists for a chromosome, Map Viewer allows a display of these maps simultaneously.


Using Map Viewer, researchers can find answers to questions such as:

  • Where does a particular gene exist within an organism's genome?
  • Which genes are located on a particular chromosome and in what order?
  • What is the corresponding sequence data for a gene that exists in a particular chromosomal region?
  • What is the distance between two genes?



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