Using Bioinformatics in the Exploration of Genetic DiversityFundamentals and Recent Advances

Launched October 2007 Updated April 2018 19 lectures
Prof. Matthew He
Professor and Director, Division of Math, Science and Technology, Nova Southeastern University, USA

Genetic diversity at its most elementary level is represented by differences in the sequences of nucleotides (adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine) that form the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) within the cells of the organism. It deals with any variation in the nucleotides, genes, chromosomes, or whole genomes of organisms, and provides... read morea mechanism for populations to adapt to their ever-changing environment. The more variation exists, the better the chance that at least some of the individuals will have an allelic variant that is suited for the new environment, and will produce offspring with the variant that will in turn reproduce and continue the population into subsequent generations.

But surprisingly, molecular genetics has discovered that all organisms are equivalent to each other in their basic genetic structures. Due to this revolutionary discovery, a great unification of all biological organisms has occurred, and information-genetic lines of investigations became one of the most promising avenues for gaining an improved perspective not just in the area of biological research but in science as a whole. The basic system of genetic coding is strikingly simple. Its simplicities and orderliness throw down a challenge to specialists from many scientific fields.

Bioinformatics considers biological organisms as interrelated ensembles of information systems. The genetic coding system is the basic one. All other biological systems must be correlated with this system that is to be transmitted to next generations of organisms.

Recent progress in the determination of genomic sequences has yielded many millions of gene sequences. But what do these sequences tell us and what are the generalities and rules that are governed by them? It seems that we understand very little about genetic contexts required to “read” them. How did we, each of us, end up where we are? Why do we appear in such a wide array of different colours and features? Such questions are even more amazing in light of genetic evidence that we are all related—descended from a common African ancestor who lived only 60,000 years ago.

The bioinformatics technology of genetic coding is the most effective technology for describing life on our planet. Using this natural technology, the huge biomass of living matter with unique and valuable properties is produced around the world.

Bioinformatics and biotechnology have many applications in biology, medicine, computer engineering, constructions of man-machine systems, etc. They stimulate development of new branches of mathematics, as well as computer methods for data searching and modelling. The knowledge gained from bioinformatics is used in many ways: to manufacture biological organisms with new properties, to diagnose and treat disease, to clone organisms, to develop new computer technologies, to create new materials with unique characteristics, to make nanotechnological artefacts and for other high-tech purposes. It seems that, in the future, all fields of human life will be influenced by progress in bioinformatics.

This series has been designed to describe how genetic diversity can be explored using bioinformatics. It includes a background introduction to genetic diversity; population selection; sample collecting, storing, and analyzing; biochemistry; similarities and diversity; functional genomics; the relationship of all of the above with human disease; DNA sequence analysis and DNA structure prediction; genomic variation; as well as the latest theoretical and experimental advances described by eminent researchers in these fields. Ultimately the objective of exploring genetic diversity using bioinformatics is to create a knowledge resource for the benefit of the worldwide scientific community and all humanity