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Computational Biology

What is Computational Biology?

Professor Jason Mezey collaborates with medical researchers and plant geneticists developing algorithms for answering questions in genomics.

Broadly speaking, computational biology is the application of computer science, statistics, and mathematics to problems in biology. Computational biology spans a wide range of fields within biology, including genomics/genetics, biophysics, cell biology, biochemistry, and evolution. Likewise, it makes use of tools and techniques from many different quantitative fields, including algorithm design, machine learning, Bayesian and frequentist statistics, and statistical physics.

What kinds of problems do computational biologists work on?

Much of computational biology is concerned with the analysis of molecular data, such as biosequences (DNA, RNA, or protein sequences), three-dimensional protein structures, gene expression data, or molecular biological networks (metabolic pathways, protein-protein interaction networks, or gene regulatory networks). A wide variety of problems can be addressed using these data, such as the identification of disease-causing genes, the reconstruction of the evolutionary histories of species, and the unlocking of the complex regulatory codes that turn genes on and off. Computational biology can also be concerned with non-molecular data, such as clinical or ecological data.

What are the differences between computational biology and bioinformatics?

The terms computational biology and bioinformatics are often used interchangeably. However, computational biology sometimes connotes the development of algorithms, mathematical models, and methods for statistical inference, while bioinformatics is more associated with the development of software tools, databases, and visualization methods.

What should undergraduates at Cornell major in if they are interested in computational biology?

Undergraduates at Cornell who wish to focus on computational biology can do so through the Statistical Genomics concentration in the Biometry major, the Computational Biology concentration in the Biology major, or the Mathematical Biology concentration in the Mathematics major. These programs all differ somewhat in their requirements and areas of emphasis. Several undergraduate courses in computational biology are offered through these and other programs at Cornell.

What graduate programs are available for computational biology at Cornell?

Most graduate students interested in computational biology enroll in the Computational Biology Graduate Field. However, it is also possible to do research in computational biology from graduate fields such as Genetics and Development, Biometry, Statistics, Applied Mathematics, and Computer Science. Many BSCB faculty members belong to these graduate fields as well as to Computational Biology.