Democratization of Bioinformatics Tools

Recently I attended a great presentation by Nicolas Robine about the New York Genomics center at the University of Southern Mississippi. The presentation told the story of a small team (10 people with only laptops) that went on to develop into one of the leading sequence and analysis centers in the US.

Bioinformatics has been evolving over the past several decades as a scientific field especially as sequencing technology became cheaper and more precise and it’s penetration in universities, labs and companies. Some open source and commercial tools have been developed and scientists everywhere are noticing: biology, biomedicine, pharma, healthcare and chemistry are relying more and more on technology and computational methods to find answers to global challenges, from biological understanding to cancer and infectious disease treatment.

One story I recently heard was of a post-doc student that changed his focus to bioinformatics from biology as a result of wanting to “get more” out of data. Others are held back from funding before more can be captured from experimental data using bioinformatics approaches. Another professor shared that he has a stack of hard drives from old RNA-seq data “somewhere” waiting to be analyzed.

The need to analyze accumulated data is so great that scientists are rushing to learn the basics of bioinformatics themselves. During our conversation with Nicolas Robine, he pointed out that their center mostly deals with large-scale experiments that require customizing and automating the approach almost every time. The expert team solves challenges of integration, data mining and automation as scientists completely rely on the center to deliver “answers” to posed questions.

While such an approach is typical, as an industry matures, we clearly see the “democratization” of advanced skills. A great example is cinema: just several years ago, video editing, post production and even camera work was done exclusively by experts. Final Cut, After Effects, goPro and iPhones are changing that as we speak. As people hide complex technology behind easy-to-use devices and user-friendly interfaces, more people make a bold step to learn and become experts themselves. Perhaps advanced CGI will stay out of reach for most for quite some time, but already millions of users without degrees actively produce, edit, animate and model an outbreak of creative media that can be freely accessed online.

What about the future of Bioinformatics? We believe now is the time for democratization of tools that will help scientists and companies make the most of their data. Bioinformatics is a field that is becoming integrated with other disciplines as a method of discovery, as a new “microscope”, a way to view the biological world around us. That is why Pine Biotech is embarking on a journey to develop a platform that brings together open-source and proprietary bioinformatics tools into an integrated data analysis, mining and visualization platform to help scientists, organizations and companies design experiments, analyze data and reach biological understanding themselves, shortening the way to discovery.

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