Life Out of Sequence. A datadriven history of bioinformatics #bigdata #bigscience

” These differences in appearance and work demonstrate the fundamental changes that have taken place in biology in the last thirty years. Gilbert’s paradigm shift began to change the meaning of the very objects of biology itself. That is, computers have altered our understanding of “life.” In the fi rst place, this change involved the “virtualization” of biological work and biological objects: organisms and genes become codes made up of zeros and ones. But more importantly, information technologies require particular structures and representations of biological objects. These structures and representations have increasingly come to stand in for the objects themselves in biological work. Databases and algorithms determine what sorts of objects exist and the relationships between them. Compared with the 1960s and 1970s, life looks different to biologists in the early twenty-first century. The wet labs and wet work of biology have not disappeared, but they are increasingly dependent on hardware and software in intricate ways. “Seeing” or analyzing a genome, to take one important example, requires automated sequencers, databases, and visualization software. The history recounted in this book is just not a story about how computers or robots have been substituted for human workers, or how information and data have replaced cells and test tubes in the laboratory. These things have occurred, but the changes in biology are far deeper than this. Nor is it just a story about how computers have speeded up or scaled up biology. Computers are implicated in more fundamental changes: changes in what biologists do, in how they work, in what they value, in what experimentation means, in what sort of objects biologists deal with, and in the kind of knowledge biology produces. “Bioinformatics” is used here as a label to describe this increasing entanglement of biology with computers. By interrogating bioinformatic knowledge “in the making,” we learn how biological knowledge is made and used through computers. This story is not about the smoothness of digital fl ows, but about the rigidity of computers, networks, software, and databases” (pag 5-6, from “Life Out of Sequence. A datadriven history of bioinformatics”, Hallam Stevens)

Schermata 02-2456693 alle 22.40.04

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Cosimo Accoto

Research Affiliate at MIT | Author "Il Mondo Dato" (Egea) | Philosopher in Residence | Business Innovation Advisor | www.cosimoaccoto.com

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