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Computers + Biology = Bioinformatics O'Reilly Releases First in a Line of Bioinformatics Books

April 25, 2001

Sebastopol, CA--By the end of 2003, the information compiled from the human genome project is expected to be in public internet-accessible databases. Researchers say this may spark a revolution in medicine, giving scientists and physicians the material they need to predict, prevent, and treat disease. We have vast volumes of DNA sequence data at our fingertips. But how do we figure out which parts of that DNA control the various chemical processes of life? We know the function and structure of some proteins, but how do we determine the function of new proteins? And how do we predict what a protein will look like, based on knowledge of its sequence?

The answer lies in Bioinformatics--the application of computational and analytical methods to biological problems. Bioinformatics is a rapidly evolving scientific discipline. Genome sequencing projects are producing vast amounts of biological data for many different organisms, and, increasingly, storing these data in public databases. Such biological databases are growing exponentially, along with the biological literature. It's impossible for even the most zealous researcher to stay on top of necessary information in the field without the aid of computer-based tools. Bioinformatics is all about building these tools.

To learn more about the latest trends and research in this field, don't miss the O'Reilly Bioinformatics Technology Conference January 28-31, 2002, in Tuscon, Arizona.

"In a research environment, where many biologists are still asking basic questions, such as 'What's the best way to organize my data files on the computer?,' and with a lot of computer professionals probably thinking about protein mainly as a component of lunch, 'What is bioinformatics?' is a very valid question," says Cynthia Gibas, coauthor of the just-released Developing Bioinformatics Computer Skills (O'Reilly, US $34.95). "The glib answer runs something like this: 'Bioinformatics is the intersection of information technology and biology.'"

"But what does that really mean? Those answers are barely answers--they leave open a lot of questions. 'Information technology' and 'data mining' don't really mean a whole lot to a biologist, and don't convey a sense of the possibilities that computers create for researchers," she explains. "And from the opposite perspective, 'biology' doesn't mean a whole lot to a computer professional. What is it biologists do? What do they want to find out? How do they go about finding it out? And finally, what are the benefits of applying information technology to biological research, and why is bioinformatics such a hot area as a result?"

Developing Bioinformatics Computer Skills was written to help biologists, researchers, and students develop a structured approach to biological data and the computer tools they'll need to analyze it. "Bioinformatics is a natural fit for O'Reilly. It's a fascinating (and practical) application of many of the technology areas in which we already publish, such as Perl, Python, Java, XML, and database technologies," says Lorrie LeJeune, O'Reilly's Bioinformatics Editor. "Bioinformatics combines biology and computer science--two areas that have not had lots of overlap until the Human Genome Project, gene sequencing, and genome analysis became popular terms. There's a lot of information pain, and there's very little material aimed at biologists who are struggling to understanding and use computer tools."

Developing Bioinformatics Computer Skills covers the Unix file system, building tools and databases for bioinformatics, computational approaches to biological problems, an introduction to Perl for bioinformatics, data mining, data visualization, and tips for tailoring data analysis software to individual research needs.

Online Resources:

Developing Bioinformatics Computer Skills
Cynthia Gibas & Per Jambeck
April 2001
ISBN 1-56592-664-1, 442 pages, $34.95

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