The Regenerative Biology research effort at the Morgridge Institute studies biology through the use of high-throughput, cutting-edge technologies – technologies that generate millions of data points per experiment. While the experiment itself might take only a few days to run, researchers may need weeks to properly and thoroughly analyze all the data that are generated. The analysis of these very large databases is the essence of bioinformatics.
The Field of Bioinformatics
Bioinformatics is a growing field of scientific research that integrates the disciplines of computer science, statistics and biology to address complex research questions. Scientists trained in bioinformatics have expertise in statistics, mathematics, computational biology, information technology, database development and algorithm development, and they use those skills to process, filter, analyze and visualize the salient features of large data sets. Without bioinformatics, biology researchers would be unable to fully understand and integrate the high-throughput data they generate in experiments.
Through bioinformatics, scientists can address some of the most complicated questions about biology. It is a valuable collaborative tool that supports scientists in their quest to understand the role that the 30,000-plus genes in the human genome play in cellular development. The use of computational analysis to make better and more educated guesses about the influence and status of specific genetic information is proving to be beneficial in the high stakes world of stem cell and regenerative biology research.
Bioinformatics at the Morgridge Institute for Research
In the case of the groundbreaking research conducted by members of the Thomson Lab, bioinformaticians are focused on narrowing the critical bits of genetic material from among tens of thousands of developmental instructions in the human genome that direct the induction of pluripotent stem cells through the early stages of differentiation.
An example of the type of information the bioinformatics team focuses on is the next generation DNA sequencing data produced by the lab’s Illumina GAII sequencer. This sequencer can generate over 2 billion base pairs of sequence in one 48-hour run and represents more than 1 terabyte of undeciphered text and image information. Buried in this explosion of data may be information on important proteins that control which genes get turned on or off in embryonic stem cells or their derivatives. Using the tools of bioinformatics it is possible to produce a list of activated genes that may play a role in regeneration, development or pluripotency and pave the way to future discoveries in the field of regenerative biology.
The Regenerative Biology platform of the Morgridge Institute for Research relies on the full integration of its Bioinformatics team, another unique feature of the institute. The collaborative philosophy among members of the Thomson Lab, which includes its bioinformaticians, is one of the reasons the laboratory has succeeded in overcoming technical hurdles and achieving groundbreaking results.
Front Row: Mike Collins, Scott Swanson, Ron Stewart, Victor Ruotti