Life science might not seem like an area where computers are important, but it turns out that in modern life science, they are absolutely vital. Let’s discuss a few examples of when and how they are used.
What Is Life Science?
Life is perhaps the biggest puzzle the universe offers. What is life? How did it develop? At times it seems mystical, and many still believe that it is. To this day, we still don’t fully understand how the brain works.
But life science is about figuring out as much as we can about life on Earth, how it works, and how it develops.Life science is the study of living organisms – everything from microorganisms to plants and animals. It includes biology, zoology, botany, bioethics, anatomy, medicine, and genetics, among other fields. Any study of anything that is alive is in some way connected to life science.Life might seem very tangible and physical. It might seem like the kind of thing that you study in a rainforest or by working in the study of medicine to make sick people better. But as time goes on, computers are becoming more and more central to the study of life science.
That’s because computers can do things that humans cannot.
Computers in Life Science
There are many ways computers are used in life science; usually through either the use of sensors and other hardware that only a computer can understand, or computers’ incredible capacity for doing complex analyses quickly. A piece of analysis that would take a human 20 years to complete could be done by computer in days. The examples of computers in life science we will discuss in this lesson are medical imaging, genomics, drug design and discovery, assistive technology, and simulation.Medical imaging is the process of creating a picture of the inside of a human (or animal) body. An MRI scanner is a great example of this: it uses a gigantic magnet and our understanding of quantum mechanical physics to create an image of the inside of the body, including the brain.
Computers can be used with MRI scanners, not only to create the image itself through the scanner’s sensors, but also to analyze the image. A computer can classify the tissues shown in the image, guide neurosurgery, identify potential problems, measure the thickness of certain tissues, or even decode mental states. A computer can figure out the noun that a human being was thinking of through an MRI scan with high accuracy.Genomics is a part of biology that focuses on understanding genomes, including their structure, function, evolution, and mapping. Genomes are the genetic material of an organism, including the rules that explain how to build the various cells in the body.
Computer programs are vital to genomics these days. They can figure out the most likely evolutionary relationships between organisms by analyzing their genetics and can be used for gene and protein sequencing.Drug design and discovery is about finding drugs that will help humans with particular diseases and problems. Computers can be used to figure out candidates far more quickly than any human could.
This probably isn’t surprising when you consider that humans contain 500,000 proteins, only a small percentage of which are well studied.Computers are especially useful in analyzing protein folding, which is where proteins (which started out unfolded or random) reach their final functional shape. Many medical conditions are a result of problems with proper protein folding, and this is something only a computer can analyze. In fact, computer power is so important that Stanford University famously set up the [email protected] project, where you can use your home computer to help analyze the huge amount of data they have to handle. This kind of group computing is a great alternative to having to buy expensive supercomputers.
Assistive technology is any kind of technology that helps humans do things they wouldn’t be able to do without it or allows humans to do things better or more easily. This can be anything from using robotics for mobility to developing interfaces between the brain and a computer to run electronic limbs or control computers by thought. While we have a lot to learn in this area, there’s a lot of potential, and all of this must be run by computers.Simulations are where a computer attempts to model and predict the behavior of a natural system.
Computers can be used to simulate cellular growth, the human nervous system, motor control, disease transmission, and disease progression. All of these things are highly useful in biological and medical research.These are only a few of the many ways that computers can be used in life sciences.
Each of these examples requires reasonably powerful computers, with specialist software to complete their task.Computers might not be as intelligent as humans, but they are far faster at what they can do. Much of what we do today with computers would have taken thousands of times longer by humans. They’ve had a big impact on our understanding of the life sciences.
Life science is the study of living organisms – everything from microorganisms to plants and animals. It includes biology, zoology, botany, bioethics, anatomy, medicine, and genetics.
Computers are vital to all these fields today, and they increase how quickly we can do complex research. They’ve allowed us to discover a lot about how biological systems work.Computers are used for analyzing medical images, understanding and mapping genomes, discovering and designing drugs, assisting people through technology, running simulations, and many others.
They’ve made a big difference in expanding human knowledge and capability.