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Computers For DNA ?? Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Kapil Pandya, India Dec 13, 2004
Health   Opinions


The human brain is believed by many as the best computer, because besides collecting, storing and analyzing the data, it can also "feel" it. But consider this - 3 billion base pair sequences and 20,000 to 25,000 genes in human DNA; thousands of laboratories and institutions involved in genomic research across the globe; hundreds of diseases waiting to get cured by genetic engineering- these figures make the human brain feel its limitations. The completion of The Human Genome project has enlightened a new ray of hope for all those computer masterminds who are itching to expand the horizons of computer applications.

There are about 3 billion base pair sequences in human DNA. These simulate the 0101 type of binary representation of a hard-disk memory. But instead of 0 and 1, we have A, C, T and G [nitrogen bases] which form “base pairs.” These base pairs form thousands of genes, which in turn, make up the DNA. Such a vast data, when needed to be exchanged, will of course require highly sophisticated next-generation computers.

The major role of computers in genetics and genomics lie in analyzing this immense data and storing it. Also, with the simultaneous research going on in organisms of other species, like plants, animals, insects etc., there exists the necessity of a mediator for information exchange. Computers can fill this gap by not only storing various genetic sequences, but also making comparisons between various species' models at fast speed. This enriches the thinking capacity of scientists involved in life sciences.

The first step in characterizing the functional diversity of molecular biology and genetics is a comprehensive, genome based analysis of the rapidly evolving genetic data. The databases will require improvements in tools that are currently in vogue for interpretations. The memory capacities of computers will also have to be enhanced. These databases and their archives are the corner stone for future research.

For example, identifications of proteins and their complexes by techniques such as mass spectrometry and DNA micro arrays will be in common use in the years to come. They rely heavily on computers and high-speed algorithms for matching of mass spectrometry tags and corresponding protein databases.

Along with this, conglomeration of computers with other hardware of medical and research purposes will also be required. Like the nuclear magnetic resonance imaging machine, it is used to study the activity of certain proteins. Research is in progress to prepare a “video-tape” recording of enzyme activity as it catalyzes a reaction. This has to be shown with the help of a computer by graphically designing the entire process. So it calls for outstanding graphic cards and high resolution chips in the computers.

The Genome To Life [GTL] initiative of the U.S. Department Of Energetics has “computational enrichment” as one of its many goals. The program is aiming towards early planning and prototyping processes to determine the New Biology’s computing and information demands. A significant amount of investment is being made in development of high performance biological computing codes and software libraries. These codes are expected to include everything from basic bioinformatics algorithms to fundamentally new methods for simulating complex processes.

From the economical and human resources perspective, this revolution is expected to create numerous job opportunities. This is true for students and workers in the relevant fields, as well as commerce and management personnel. Development of groundwork for large-scale biological computing infrastructure and applications demands a lot of managerial and financial skills as well.

Thus we are right now standing on the threshold of a new age, which will see the combined ventures of both, computational as well as biomedical research. Science shall see new frontiers. But each new technology has to be seen with an eye of respect, if not approval. The amount of efforts put behind any research needs accolades. Though various questions regarding the practical application of genetic research to human patients remains in debate, studies need to be done for alternative therapies and improvements. Ethics have to be followed and laws regulating them need to be framed. But science cannot stop growing. The combined force of genetics and computers/software technology is one of the promising answers to these questions.



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Writer Profile
Kapil Pandya

i am a medical student, now doing my housemenship at Baroda, India. I believe the whole world is a family and we all, its members. No human being is good or bad. We all are The Creator's children having the sacred oppurtinity to live a human life. TIG has made me feel the same thing over and over again.
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