Genetics' Information Revolution

Unlocking the secrets of the human genome would be impossible without the computerized manipulation of massive amounts of data, including the majority of the three billion chemical units that comprise our own species' genetic blueprint. But what this "bioinformatics" revolution has provided, above all, is stark confirmation of the evolutionary basis of all life on Earth.

Sequence data, whether from proteins or nucleic acids, are well suited to computer processing because they are easily digitized and broken down into their constituent units. Simple computer programs can compare two or more strings of these units and evaluate degrees of similarity, search huge databases to match new sequences against known ones, and cluster groups of sequences in the form of a family tree.

The implications of research on the first proteins to be studied almost half a century ago were profound. These sequences were all rather small--insulin has only about 50 amino acids, depending on the species--but the variation between species was clear.

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