With the advent of computers, humans have become ‘data gatherers’, measuring every aspect of our life with inferences derived from these activities. In this new culture, everything can and will become data (from internet traffic and consumer taste to the mapping of galaxies or human behavior). Everything can be measured (in pixels, Hertz, nucleotide bases, etc), turned into collections of numbers that can be stored (generally in bytes of information), archived in databases, disseminated (through cable or wireless conduits), and analyzed. We are expecting giant pay-offs from our data: proactive control of our world (from earthquakes and disease to finance and social stability), and clear understanding of chemical, biological and cosmological processes. Ultimately, we expect a better life. Unfortunately, data brings clutter and noise and its interpretation cannot keep pace with its accumulation. One problem with data is its multidimensionality and how to uncover underlying signal (patterns) in the most parsimonious way (generally using nonlinear approaches [1-3]).

Another problem relates to what we do with the data. Scientific discovery is driven by falsifiability and imagination [4] and not by purely logical processes that turn observations into understanding. Data will not generate knowledge if we use inductive principles. The gathering, archival, dissemination, modeling, and analysis of biological data falls within a relatively young field of scientific inquiry, currently known as ‘bioinformatics’, ‘computational biology’, ‘biomolecular informatics’, or ‘computational molecular biology’. Some terms are more restrictive than others and some also refer to the use of biological macromolecules as computing devices (e.g., computational molecular biology). I have chosen to refer to this data-driven field as bioinformatics.

Even though technology and information is increasing in biological sciences, many students are being left behind. Bioinformatics is one such field where students are not being properly informed of the opportunities. Therefore, science teachers need ways to teach this subject to their students. Activities for students on bioinformatics should be inquiry-based and relevant to their lives. Before activities can be completed, a brief history of the subjects is needed. In addition, the basic background information of genomics and bioinformatics is presented. Applications in science and in their lives is shown to allow students to understand relevance of bioinformatics. The activities devised begin with students using a chromatogram to obtain a gene sequence of about five base pairs. After obtaining their gene, the student complete by hand a worksheet in which they match their gene to the one out of five example genes. This activity is devised to allow the students to fully appreciate that the computer can accomplish in a matter of seconds when humans take hours to complete. Afterwards, they use the actual bioinformatics computer search tool to seek a match to their gene sequence. Once they have found a close match, they report on the structure and function of their gene. These activities are devised to allow the students to appreciate what scientists do and perform the same tasks scientists do everyday in an actual lab setting. In addition to using the information and activities in the biology curriculum, they can also be used in the mathematics curriculum, especially Discrete Mathematics and Advance Placement Statistics. The activities provide an ideal opportunity to integrate mathematics and science education. The activities are also suited to collaboration among computer science and biology teachers. In collaborating with a biology teacher, a computer/technology skills teacher could design a lesson on bioinformatics. In society today, the uses of technology are rapidly increasing and improving. Teachers need to work to stay informed on new technologies to be able to inform students of the many opportunities available. Through explaining bioinformatics to students, teachers give students a head start into the opportunities available. The information and activities provided can help teachers accomplish this task.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Communicating bioinformatics

Priti Saxena   National PG College

With the advent of computers, humans have become ‘data gatherers’, measuring every aspect of our life with inferences derived from these activities. In this new culture, everything can and will become data (from internet traffic and consumer taste to the mapping of galaxies or human behavior). Everything can be measured (in pixels, Hertz, nucleotide bases, etc), turned into collections of numbers that can be stored (generally in bytes of information), archived in databases, disseminated (through cable or wireless conduits), and analyzed. We are expecting giant pay-offs from our data: proactive control of our world (from earthquakes and disease to finance and social stability), and clear understanding of chemical, biological and cosmological processes. Ultimately, we expect a better life. Unfortunately, data brings clutter and noise and its interpretation cannot keep pace with its accumulation. One problem with data is its multidimensionality and how to uncover underlying signal (patterns) in the most parsimonious way (generally using nonlinear approaches [1-3]).

Another problem relates to what we do with the data. Scientific discovery is driven by falsifiability and imagination [4] and not by purely logical processes that turn observations into understanding. Data will not generate knowledge if we use inductive principles. The gathering, archival, dissemination, modeling, and analysis of biological data falls within a relatively young field of scientific inquiry, currently known as ‘bioinformatics’, ‘computational biology’, ‘biomolecular informatics’, or ‘computational molecular biology’. Some terms are more restrictive than others and some also refer to the use of biological macromolecules as computing devices (e.g., computational molecular biology). I have chosen to refer to this data-driven field as bioinformatics.

Even though technology and information is increasing in biological sciences, many students are being left behind. Bioinformatics is one such field where students are not being properly informed of the opportunities. Therefore, science teachers need ways to teach this subject to their students. Activities for students on bioinformatics should be inquiry-based and relevant to their lives. Before activities can be completed, a brief history of the subjects is needed. In addition, the basic background information of genomics and bioinformatics is presented. Applications in science and in their lives is shown to allow students to understand relevance of bioinformatics. The activities devised begin with students using a chromatogram to obtain a gene sequence of about five base pairs. After obtaining their gene, the student complete by hand a worksheet in which they match their gene to the one out of five example genes. This activity is devised to allow the students to fully appreciate that the computer can accomplish in a matter of seconds when humans take hours to complete. Afterwards, they use the actual bioinformatics computer search tool to seek a match to their gene sequence. Once they have found a close match, they report on the structure and function of their gene. These activities are devised to allow the students to appreciate what scientists do and perform the same tasks scientists do everyday in an actual lab setting. In addition to using the information and activities in the biology curriculum, they can also be used in the mathematics curriculum, especially Discrete Mathematics and Advance Placement Statistics. The activities provide an ideal opportunity to integrate mathematics and science education. The activities are also suited to collaboration among computer science and biology teachers. In collaborating with a biology teacher, a computer/technology skills teacher could design a lesson on bioinformatics. In society today, the uses of technology are rapidly increasing and improving. Teachers need to work to stay informed on new technologies to be able to inform students of the many opportunities available. Through explaining bioinformatics to students, teachers give students a head start into the opportunities available. The information and activities provided can help teachers accomplish this task.

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