Génétique: la révolution bioinformatique

Il serait impossible de percer les secrets du génome humain sans le traitement informatique d'une énorme quantité de données, notamment la plus grande partie des trois milliards de nucléotides (maillons élémentaires de l'ADN) qui constitue le patrimoine héréditaire de notre propre espèce. Mais la révolution bioinformatique a surtout apporté la confirmation incontestable du caractère évolutionniste de toute vie sur Terre.

Les séquences constituant les protéines ou les acides nucléiques se prêtent bien à un traitement informatique, car il est facile de les digitaliser et de les fractionner. Des programmes informatiques simples permettent de comparer deux ou plusieurs chaînes pour évaluer leur degré de similitude ou de comparer de nouvelles séquences à des séquences déjà connues figurant dans d'immenses bases de données. On peut alors les associer et les présenter sous forme d'un arbre génétique.

Les premières recherches sur les protéines il y a un demi-siècle allaient être riches de conséquences. Les séquences d'acides aminés qui les constituent étaient relativement courtes - l'insuline n'en comporte qu'une cinquantaine, le chiffre exact variant suivant l'espèce - mais la variation entre les espèces était évidente.

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