Bioinformatics and Computational Biology - same? Si, Si, Si.


At his blog, Kevin painstakingly explained the difference between bioinformatics and computational biology. You can understand the difference better by reading the following history.

We remember the time, when the terms ‘computational biology’ were coined. From time to time, we used to visit UCSF in 2002-2004 to discuss computational algorithms to solve biological problems. In those days, only few researchers were using computers in biology, and even a fewer set were actually designing algorithms.

The second group (which included us) were perfectly happy to call us bioinformaticians, but around the same time, the field got invaded by database and website designers. Hundreds of papers started to get submitted to conferences with titles like - ‘bioinformatics of rice ESTs’, ‘JOKED - Just- another Obscure Kinetochore EST Database’, etc. We sensed trouble, because in those years, biologists did not take researchers developing computational algorithms in the first place, and we did not like to get our contributions diluted by data presenters. So, ‘computational biology’ was born. A colleague from UCSF told us to always use ‘computational biology’ to describe our work henceforth. I do not know whether he coined the term, or whether the decision was made at a conference by like-minded researchers.

Leroy Hood probably went through the same inconvenience, because around the same time, he started promoting the term ‘systems biology’ at seminars, talks and conferences. That created more difficulty for us, because we were often asked by confused colleagues to explain the difference between ‘systems biology’, ‘computational biology’ and ‘bioinformatics’.

The real battle was of territory. Traditional biologists were not ready to yield ground to computational researchers, who always spoke weird language, and could never produce short tables that could be manipulated by Excel. It was not settled until NGS came into picture and overwhelmed even the highest power Excel.

These days, we are happy to call ourselves bioinformaticians.


Written by M. //

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