What is Bioinformatics?
Bioinformatics is the use of computers to analyse and store biological data, and intersects the fields of molecular life sciences, computer science, statistics and mathematics. We live in a time when it is economical and possible to record the full genome sequence of a single organism, or the sequences of a complex population of organisms, or measure the level and chemical modifications of all proteins in a cell, or predict the shape of small molecules that could bind to the active site of an enzyme. This is the era of personalised medicine, reprogramming of cell fate, genome editing, evolution by design and synthetic life. These activities generate and require the analysis of enormous volumes of data. This is achieved by the interdisciplinary field of bioinformatics.
There are many sub-fields within the discipline of bioinformatics. These include:
Sequence analysis, where genomes are analysed and compared, the patterns and rules whereby genomes evolve teased out, or protein relationships studied. This also entails the analysis of genomes in populations, and the identification of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), and the relationship of these SNPs to human disease or pharmaceutical efficacy at an individual level. Related analyses are also central to modern agriculture.
Structural bioinformatics involves the analysis and prediction of macromolecular structures of RNA or proteins, or the architecture of chromatin and formation of functional domains in a cell nucleus.
Database design aims to provide the resources to help biologists to use large sets of possibly complex, inter-related biological data.
Algorithm and tool development is the development of efficient methods to achieve specific tasks, and the coding of programs to provide the tools to perform these tasks as well as future, novel applications.
These are all currently active research fields in bioinformatics.
What does the Division of Bioinformatics do?
The Division of Bioinformatics is involved in bioinformatics research, the training of post-graduate students on research projects in bioinformatics, providing training to staff and students on general bioinformatics topics, and assisting with the bioinformatics components of ongoing research projects.
Bioinformatics research groups at Stellenbosch University are distributed between the Stellenbosch and the Tygerberg campusses.