DEFINING BIOINFORMATICS AND STRUCTURAL BIOINFORMATICS
WHAT IS BIOINFORMATICS?
The precise definition of bioinformatics is a matter of debate. Some define it narrowly as the development of databases to store and manipulate genomic information. Others define it broadly as encompassing all of computational biology. Based on its current use in the scientific literature, bioinformatics can be defined as the study of two information flows in molecular biology (Altman, 1998). The first information flow is based on the central dogma of molecular biology: DNA sequences are transcribed into mRNA sequences; mRNA sequences are translated into protein sequences; and protein sequences fold into three-dimensional structures that have functions. These functions are selected, in a Darwinian sense, by the environment of the organism, which drives the evolution of the DNA sequence within a population. The first class of bioinformatics applications, then, can address the transfer of information at any stage in the central dogma, including the organization and control of genes in the DNA sequence, the identification of transcriptional units in DNA, the prediction of protein structure from sequence, and the analysis of molecular function. These applications include the emergence of system-wide analyses of biological phenomenon, now called systems biology. Systems biology aims to achieve quantitative understanding not only of the individual players in a biological ...