Genes and genomes

The genome is the sum of genetic material, including genes, inherited by a living being. A genome is like an open book on the processes of life, if you know how to read it. Bioinformatics tools not only allow reading the genetic information, but also to store the resulting data, analyse and interpret them. Aberrations in genetic material can be at the heart of diseases such as cancer or Down syndrome.

At SIB, several groups are working on the topic genes and genomes as their main field of activity:

Proteins and proteomes

Proteins are the products of genes and are involved in nearly every task in the body – from shaping cells to defending the body against pathogens. Proteome describes the entire set of proteins expressed by a cell, a tissue or an organism at a given time. An altered protein, produced by a mutation in its gene, can be at the heart of diseases such as cystic fibrosis or Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Bioinformatics tools allow understanding how proteins exercise their role.

At SIB, several groups are working on the topic proteins and proteomes as their main field of activity:


Machine learning and text mining

Text mining extracts high-quality information from texts. Algorithms are designed to recognize patterns and trends within text so that computers can read and extract the information required. Computers can also be given the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed: this is the promising field of machine learning. Bioinformatics develops text-mining tools that can be of immense value to complement expert biocuration. It can also rely on machine learning techniques to predict the outcome of complex interactions such as in antibiotic resistance.

At SIB, several groups are working on the topic machine learning and text mining as their main field of activity:

Evolution and phylogeny

A genome can inform life scientists on how a species has evolved over time. Phylogeny studies the phenotypic and genetic closeness of species, displaying the evolution of life forms as phylogenetic trees. Bioinformatics tools are able to read a species’ genome, and thereby understand its evolution and build phylogenetic trees. In this way and as an example, life scientists have acquired a greater understanding of human migration in the past, the genetic closeness of hens and dinosaurs and the evolutionary history of grass.

At SIB, several groups are working on the topic evolution and phylogeny as their main field of activity:

Structural biology

Biological macromolecules such as DNA and proteins acquire a specific architecture in space. The 3D conformation they adopt is a direct consequence of their nucleic acid or amino acid sequence, respectively. A protein’s function is defined by its 3D structure. Bioinformatics develops software that is able to model and predict a protein’s 3D structure, and hence deduce its probable function. Such tools are of great assistance in the field of drug design, for instance.

At SIB, several groups are working on the topic structural biology as their main field of activity:

Systems biology

No biological macromolecule – nor living being – works on its own but interacts with many others which, in turn, interact with others. This is the field of systems biology. Bioinformatics develops mathematical models that can illustrate such systems and even address their evolution in time. Such tools can help to delineate metabolic pathways, for instance, or predict what could happen if a given species is introduced into a pre-existing ecological system.

Core facilities and competence centre

The quantity of data generated by the life sciences has grown exponentially over the years, and needs to be stored and processed. Researchers also need support in making sense of their data. Core facilities, located in the major Swiss academic institutions, and competence centres at SIB centralize research resources, and provide tools, technologies, services and expert consultation to this end: