In his introductory article, Dr. Thomas Lengauer from GMD, the German research centre on Information Technology, defines bio-informatics as the interdisciplinary field joining information technology and biology. The goal is to provide "computer-based methods to cope with and interpret the genomic data which are being uncovered in large volumes." In this context, researchers often use the term "computational biology".
Dr. Lengauer further explains how "pharmaceutical industry was the first branch of the economy to strongly engage in this new technology, that combines high-throughput experimentation with bio-informatics analysis. Medicine is following closely. Medical applications step beyond trying to find new drugs on the basis of genomic data. The aim here is to develop more effective diagnostic techniques and to optimise therapies."
According to the autumn 2000 issue of Scott-Levin's Pharmaceutical Quarterly, the genomic revolution, although still being in its infancy, is certain to change the way diseases are diagnosed and treated. Researchers believe that being able to identify genetic differences between individuals can lead to drugs tailored to the unique genetic makeup of each patient. Because of this, pharmaceutical companies are allying with firms which specialise in genomic research and applied technologies in the United States.
These so-called "bio-informatics" firms combine cutting-edge molecular biology with supercomputer capabilities to help drug companies develop new products. Bio-informatics companies take different approaches to collecting, analysing and distributing genomic information. Some are even beginning to develop drugs themselves. Their achievements, from sequencing the human genome to the creation of gene-based medicines, are affecting the pharmaceutical industry dramatically.
ERCIM News presents five scientific progress reports relating to the biological, pharmaceutical, and mathematical aspects of computational biology. Five articles cover the current research in projects which deal with new developments in the field. Additionally, three medical applications are described and the two closing papers focus on the crucial role of information technology in algorithms and visualisation issues.
Biocomputing, the second field of interest, implies a form of so-called natural computing that performs computations by means of biomolecules, according to the biomolecular computing expert, Dr. John McCaskill. One of the major principles in biocomputing is the potential of a device to alter the device itself and design new hardware solutions to problems. In this regard Dr. McCaskill makes a strong plea for DNA Computing as "a qualitatively distinctive approach, exceeding all other types of computation, even including quantum computing."
The biocomputing section of ERCIM News hosts a contribution on the European Molecular Computing Consortium (EMCC). Next to this, the revolutionary findings in two research projects on DNA Computing are being addressed. Two other papers describe the more established approach of neural network computation. Also, the Dutch Leiden Center for Natural Computing presents its interdisciplinary research on molecular computing, whereas Liverpool University, an active EMCC member, is running a project on cellular computing.
Published quarterly, ERCIM News reports on joint actions of the ERCIM partners, and aims to reflect the contribution made by ERCIM to the European Community in Information Technology. Through short articles and news items, it provides a forum for the exchange of information between the institutes and also with the wider scientific community. More information on this publication is available at the ERCIM Web site.