The overarching purpose of this chapter is to introduce the reader to some of the essential elements of biology, genomics, and bioinformatics. It is by no means a comprehensive description of these fields, but rather the bare minimum that will be necessary to understand the remainder of the book. In the first section we introduce the primary biological molecules: nucleic acids and proteins. We discuss genetic information flow in living beings and how genetic material in DNA is translated into functional proteins. In the second section we present a short primer on probability theory; we review some of the basic concepts. In the third section we describe how biological sequences are obtained and the common strategies employed to analyze them. In the fourth section, we describe the methods used to collect high throughput gene expression data. We also review the popular methods used to analyze gene expression data. There are many other important areas of functional genomics that we do not address at all in this chapter. New experimental and analytical methods are constantly emerging. For the sake of brevity we focused our discussion on the areas that are most applicable to the remainder of the book. But, we note that many of the analytical methods presented here can be applied widely and without great difficulty to other data types than the ones they have been presented with. Here we present a focused review of molecular biology designed to give the reader a sufficient background to comprehend the remainder of the book. A thorough discussion is beyond the scope of this book and the interested reader is referred to other textbooks (Alberts, Bray et al. 1994; Stryer 1995; Nelson, Lehninger et al. 2000). The central dogma of molecular biology is a paradigm of information flow in living organisms (see Plate 2.1). Information is stored in the genomic deoxyriboculeic acid (DNA). DNA polymerase, a protein that synthesizes DNA, can replicate DNA so that it can be passed on to progeny after cell division.
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