I have previously written about the origins of bioinformatics as a field, starting by reposting an article I wrote in 2002, The Mythology of Bioinformatics, and subsequently introducing the first and second articles in the Roots of Bioinformatics series published in PLoS Computational Biology.

A third article in the series,* The Roots of Bioinformatics in Theoretical Biology, is now available.

I’ve yet to find time to read this slowly–perhaps later this weekend!–but I’d like to invite readers to share their thoughts about Prof. Paulien Hogeweg’s thesis that ’the original meaning of the term is re-emerging’.

Paulien takes as a starting point what she and a colleague wanted to capture in their use of the term ‘bioinformatics’ that they coined in the early 1970s to describe their studies of ’informatic processes in biotic systems’. She then takes us through a personal account of what she has seen taken place since, closing with a brief summary of how she sees things as standing today.

I have to admit I’ve generally used the term ‘computational biology’ to capture work away from the ‘pure’ informatics side of things,** with it’s focus on data management and information theoretic approaches, but I like the notion that work in the field–by whatever name you wish to call it–should pull together many levels and aspects of biology rather stand aside from things founded on biologic concepts. (The ‘biologic concept’ element is one reason I use the term computational biology, with it’s emphasis on biology.)

The Paul Nurse’s lecture that she refers to in closing was part of a series The Great Ideas of Biology, a talk titled Organisms are information networks presented at the Royal Institution, London:

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My first thoughts are that the term ‘information’, while useful in computational applications, has always bothered me just a little, as it’s a sort of ‘added on’ concept. Ideally, I prefer to think in terms of physics and chemistry. The thing that bothers me, I guess, is that information as a concept carries with it a danger of–in a sense–anthropomorphising a subject. But maybe this is too philosophical for a Friday night…!

I’d be interested to hear reader’s thoughts on the article and video.


Hogeweg, P. (2011). The Roots of Bioinformatics in Theoretical Biology PLoS Computational Biology, 7 (3) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002021


* I’m assuming, of course, that I haven’t missed any!

** Don’t confuse this with thinking that I dislike this aspect! – my own interests span those from quite close to biological to things that are, in essence, pure computer science applied in the arena of bioinformatics.

Other articles in Code for Life:

Russell Doolittle on Life before Bioinformatics

The roots of bioinformatics

Who has the most bioinformatics scientists?

New academic visas for New Zealand

The mythology of bioinformatics

Epigenetics and 3-D gene structure