Importance & Usage of Computers in Life Science

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  • 0:03 What Is Life Science?
  • 1:09 Computers in Life Science
  • 5:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

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.

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