Chapter 2. Computational Approaches to Biological Questions

There is a standard range of techniques that are taught in bioinformatics courses. Currently, most of the important techniques are based on one key principle: that sequence and structural homology (or similarity) between molecules can be used to infer structural and functional similarity. In this chapter, we'll give you an overview of the standard computer techniques available to biologists; later in the book, we'll discuss how specific software packages implement these techniques and how you should use them.

Molecular Biology's Central Dogma

Before we go any further, it's essential that you understand some basics of cell and molecular biology. If you're already familiar with DNA and protein structure, genes, and the processes of transcription and translation, feel free to skip ahead to the next section.

The central dogma of molecular biology states that:

DNA acts as a template to replicate itself, DNA is also transcribed into RNA, and RNA is translated into protein.

As you can see, the central dogma sums up the function of the genome in terms of information. Genetic information is conserved and passed on to progeny through the process of replication. Genetic information is also used by the individual organism through the processes of transcription and translation. There are many layers of function, at the structural, biochemical, and cellular levels, built on top of genomic information. But in the end, all of life's functions ...

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