Bioinformatics is the application of information technology to the study of living things, usually at the molecular level. Bioinformatics involves the use of computers to collect, organize and use biological information to answer questions in fields like evolutionary biology.
It is an interdisciplinary field that develops methods and software tools for understanding biological data. As an interdisciplinary field of science, bioinformatics combines computer science, statistics, mathematics and engineering to analyze and interpret biological data. Bioinformatics has been used for in silico analyses of biological queries using mathematical and statistical techniques.
Growth of biotechnology has accelerated particularly during the last decade due to accumulation of vast information as a result of sequencing of genomes and solving of crystal structures. This, coupled with advances in IT has made biotechnology increasingly dependent on computationally intensive approaches. This has led to the emergence of a super- specialty discipline, called Bioinformatics. The term ‘bioinformatics’ is the short form of ‘biological informatics’, just as biotechnology is the short form of ‘biological technology’.
India’s potential and progress in Bioinformatics:
Bioinformatics is growing as an independent discipline and helping immensely to accelerate the growth of Biotechnology. Its ultimate goal is to uncover the wealth of biological information hidden in the mass of data and to obtain a clearer insight into the fundamental biology of organisms. Bioinformatics has become a frontline applied science and is of vital importance to the study of new biology, which is widely recognized as the defining scientific endeavor of the twenty-first century. The genomic revolution has underscored the central role of bioinformatics in understanding the very basics of life processes. The growth in full genomic sequencing, structural genomics, proteomics, micro-array etc. will be very slow without application of bioinformatics. In fact usefulness of these areas to solve complex biological problems will be limited without bioinformatics and thus very high importance to bioinformatics.
The Bioinformatics sector in India has grown rapidly as IT companies have also stepped up their focus on the life sciences vertical. Companies like Infosys, Cognizant Technologies, HCL, MphasiS, and TCS have made significant strides in this space. Indian Bioinformatics companies can look forward to garnering a large chunk of the world market for bioinformatics services such as data mining, mapping and DNA sequencing, functional genomics, proteomics and molecule design simulation. Growing volumes of genomics data and an expanding number of participants contracting work to Indian companies have encouraged many pharmaceutical, IT, and Biotechnology (BT) companies to enter the bioinformatics sector. Indian IT companies such as Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Cognizant Technologies, Infosys, and Wipro have already set up their bioinformatics divisions. Indian pharmaceutical companies such as GVK Biosciences, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, Biocon, AstraZeneca, Ranbaxy, Biological E, and Nicholas Piramal too, are making rapid moves into the bioinformatics arena. India is also witnessing the emergence of pure-play bioinformatics companies such as Strand Genomics.
In India, major government organizations, such as Biotechnology Information System (BTIS) and Department of Biotechnology (DBT) are promoting bioinformatics. DBT had identified bioinformatics as an area of high priority during the 10thplan period(2002-2007). The Government of India is also providing numerous tax incentives at par with IT to develop the bioinformatics sector. India has combined its strength in biotechnology and IT to attract outsourcing contracts in bioinformatics by building a Bio-IT park. The Bio-IT Park would be the launch pad for the bioinformatics industry as STPs (Software Technology Parks) were for IT and position itself as a global hub for bioinformatics. These parks would be a conglomerate of academic-industry-research initiatives, thereby opening up new vistas for the Indian bioinformatics market and making it a sunrise industry for the future. The Department of Biotechnology, Government of India has been working with other departments to set up these parks, which is expected to position India in the global hub of bioinformatics. Establishment of Bio-IT parks and new biotech policy acts as a growth catalyst for the bioinformatics sector.
Some of the achievements of India can be summed up in following manner:
- India was among the forerunners in the genomics space. The country entered the league of the US, the UK, Canada, China and Korea by successfully completing the Human Genome Project in 2009.
- Established in 1986, the DBT (regulatory body for biotechnology which also takes care of bioinformatics).DBT is credited for the development of the Biotechnology Information System network (BTISnet) in1987. India was the first country to build such a network.
- DBT formulated the Bioinformatics Policy of India (BPI) in 2004.
- DBT developed a mechanism aiding the exchange of information in bioinformatics within SAARC member countries.
- India has more trained bioinformaticists than any other country in the world.
- Double-digit growth in the bioinformatics sector.
- India among the preferred CRO and CTO locations for drug development low-cost R&D and cheap availability of knowledge resources.