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There is not an obvious relation between computing and biology, however computer scientists have worked closely with biologist to understand how living beings bodies work. The mechanism of human bodies is so precise, accurate, organised, homogeneous, and perfect. Even though some parts of the powerful and intelligent system still a mystery waiting to be discovered, scientists have made the best of biological discovery to develop computers and to develop intelligent machines.
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However biology depends greatly on bioinformatics, which is a biological massive information stored in memory, in practical information about DNA and protein sequences. Special algorithm is used to retrieve and compare the information stored. Bioinformatics is essencial tool for biologist in their studies and discoveries.
It might seem odd to unspecialised people to relate computing and biology; nonetheless these two topics are closely related. Computer scientists are constantly trying to improve the machines intelligence; by trying to understand the intelligence of the living organism. The meaning of intelligence when it is applied to a machine could be bit ambiguous, one might wonder, what is intelligence or what is artificial intelligence (AI)? They are different ways to define artificial Intelligence one is that it is the machine's ability to adapt to the environment, learn from it, and reacts consciously and unconsciously to the actions applied to it. Moreover, to develop such mechanism in machines scientists try to mimic the perfect example of intelligent machines which are humans and animals plus some insects.
Humans are considered to have the most sophisticated intelligence among all of living organism on earth. The way human's brain and many other living organisms brains it controls its body, each part of the body is connected throw neural network to the brain, the brain sends signals to different parts of the body, and these part reacts upon the signal sent. Brain controls the reactions needed to adapt to the surrounding environment. However, DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) is a powerful molecule mixture that sets the organism's features, its behaviour. Each organism has unique DNA structure that defines it. Computer Scientist recognised these how neural networks and DNA plays a big part of developing intelligent organisms and created artificial neural networks as well as artificial DNA, to be used in computing.
Nowadays programming languages, robotics and some software mimic some organism's behaviour.
Another relation between computing to biology is Bioinformatics. Bioinformatics is the part of science which requires biology, computer science and information technology to blend together. It plays a great part in improving biology; it is used to discover new genes, proteins and relations between the structures of different proteins, plus the relation between different genes and DNA structures.
Biology in computing:
The first computers that were ever made, were to just to make simple calculations, store a small and limited amount of information, but soon enough it was realised that computers can perform much more complicated functionality that can be very useful to save time and human's energy, so it kept progressing and the demand for computers to be faster and smarter gradually grew. Since the start of computers, computer scientists have always looked to the functionality of the perfect example of intelligent machines which are human beings, they try to mimic some of its behaviour in thinking and reacting, to make developments to the machine.
Computer scientists have been fascinated by human's brain, how billions and billions of cells in our brain is connected to each other, the way information is transferred in between, the speed of transferring these information, the selectivity and the patterns recognition of the brain. In addition to this the way human brain select the memory to store in unclear way, sometimes humans can remember something vividly happened long time ago clearly, but on the other hand other near events memory would be murky and fuzzy, and some memories are forgotten but would be provoked by some reminder, Unlike computers each information has address in the memory, and when it is needed; it can easily be retrieved, but in human's brain is much more complicated than that. Many other fascinating properties and abilities of the brain that its mechanism remains unanswered. However some scientist solved some of these questions and computer scientist turned it into some unclear fuzzy algorithm to mimic the brain's behaviour in AI.
Human brain contains billions of neural networks that are all connected, the way neural works is amazing, the information received to the neural network is fragmented into different pattern and these patterns are processed in the cell of the neuron then it is gathered together to from the understanding of the information. Furthermore the learning and adaptive ability to the surroundings, is one of the properties that scientist are trying to achieve to develop intelligent machine.
Artificial neural networks are the biggest in the industry to develop computers; it is similar in its functionality to the non-artificial neural network. Neural network consist many neurons or units which are referred to them as nodes, these nodes are connected by links. Each neuron has several inputs and one output, with a complex function in the middle. The inputs and the output of neurons are interpolated, for instance one neuron's output is an input to another neuron and different neurons can share the same input.
Computer scientist have worked on understanding the functions of the neurons of the brain to form complex fuzzy logic, that is would perform non-linear functions. Neural networks can perform operations much faster then logic network can, and it also can perform much more complex operations.
Another biological aspect that computer scientist are interested in is, the unique and complex structure of DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) it is a powerful molecule that exists in every sell in the cellular organism and some viruses. Different organisms have different DNA sequence, some species have similar DNA but never the same, for instance each person have its own unique DNA sequence. DNA stores massive code that states the generic information which is passed on from generation before or to the offspring. The DNA transfers information to the protein by copying it to RAN (related nucleic acid) which transfers the information. Also the DNA can make copy of itself million of times without needing any massive amount of energy to do so. Scientists have succeed in creating artificial DNA, which was a great success. One of many applications in computing that was developed or created due to the artificial DNA was biochips. Owing to the fact that DNA can store massive coded information and do a great amount of work in a short time, it was found that DNA can be used to solve some difficult mathematics problems, and from that scientist started studying the possibility of using DNA in computing instead of silicon chips. Silicon chips is limited in size and speed comparing to DNA chips, DNA chip lay under biochips which there are other types of it, some uses proteins.
Nowadays the researchers use the knowledge of biologist in the chemical reactions to develop the use of DNA in computing and to develop the molecule computing.
Lastly, one of the great developing application in bio-computing, is robotics, many robotics have been made to mimic some living organism's behaviour, from small animal to insects which was very useful in many fields.
Computing in Biology:
Computer programs are widely used in many different majors, nowadays almost everything depend on computers. Biologists take great advantage of the computers ability to store a huge amount of database, and the speed of which it can analyse information and process it and the sophisticated mathematics that computers can use to get results.
The union of computer science, information technology and biology is called (Bioinformatics), "Bioinformatics incorporates the development of databases to store statistical tools and algorithms to analyze and determine relationships between biological data sets, such as macromolecular sequences, structure, expression profiles and biochemical pathway"(David R. Westhead, Howard Parish, Richard M. Twyman, page 1). Even though the computational tools for biological analysis had been available since the 60s, the term Bioinformatics was started to be used during 90s.
The advantage of computers in bioinformatics, is it can repeat certain job millions of times without any problems, for example comparing sequences, and that requires great deal of focus, accuracy and time, therefore computers can save time and makes it easier.
Bioinformatics is used to analyse the sequence of the DNA, RNA, and proteins structures, to identify it, find and relate other similar structured sequences, and determine its evolutionary terms of it. DNA is this generic unique component that shows the generic features of species, it shows the way living organisms developed and which species are dissented from.
Furthermore, pharmacists use bioinformatics to develop drugs for certain virus or fight a disease.
Bioinformatics programs uses special and specific algorithms to get the required results, this algorithm is used to compare input DNA sequence with all of the DNA sequence in the database, and return similar DNA sequence and the information attached with it, and also used to retrieve some required information . The bioinformatics uses sophisticated programming language such as C, java or PERAL, depending on the required methods used to get the results the language is chosen.
Another application biologist make use of is robotics, scientist use robotics that mimics some organism features to study this organism, and it was used in many laboratory work, when a robotic insect and animal attached to it a camera, and was put with its modelled organism, to study the organism's reactions closely.
In conclusion, biology and computing are both bonded together, both fields develop as the other develop. Computers are being changed towards being bio-computers as many discoveries would be made in biology to solve some mystery around the mechanisms of the living species bodies, especially in the field of DNA and neural networks. It is expected as more questions being solved in biology that biochips will over come silicon chips, and the improvements in neural network will be made. If that happened computers will be much smaller and much faster. In addition to that bio-robotics will become more intelligent, and could adapt more sufficiently to the surrounding environment.
Biology depends greatly on computers when storing data, comparing date when studying evolutions and retrieving stored data. Bioinformatics is essential for biologist when studying DNA or protein sequence, and as computers develop in the amount of data could be stored and development in the internet connections and networks, biological studies will benefit from it.
- Naur, P. (1992), Computing: A Human Activity, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company , New York.
- Westhead, D. R., Parish, J. H. & Twyman, R. M. (2002), Bioinformatics, BIOS Scientific Publishers Ltd, Oxford.
- Pfeifer, R., Bongard, J. & (2006), Bioinformatics, The MIT Press, London.
- Lesk, A. M. (2006), Introduction to Bioinformatics, 2nd ed, OXFORD University Press, New York.
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DNA [Accessed: 3/01/10]
- http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/handbook/basics/dna [Accessed: 3/01/10]
- Westhead, D. R., Parish, J. H. & Twyman, R. M. (2002), Bioinformatics, BIOS Scientific Publishers Ltd, Oxford