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The Computational Biologist And Blast

Genetic counseling lets potential parents make an informed decision before they decide to have a child. Geneticists, however, would like to be able to take this one step further: They would like to be able to cure genetic diseases. To be able to do so, scientists must first understand how a disease-causing gene results in illness. Computational biologists created a computer program called BLAST to help with this task.

To use BLAST, a researcher must know the DNA sequence of the disease-causing gene or the protein sequence that the gene encodes. BLAST compares DNA or protein sequences. The program can be used to search many previously studied sequences to see if there are any that are similar to a newly found sequence. BLAST measures the strength of a match between two sequences with a p value. The smaller the p value, the lower the probability that the similarity is due to chance alone.

If two sequences are alike, their functions may also be alike. For BLAST to be most useful to a researcher, there would be a gene that has already been entered in the library that resembles the disease-causing gene, and some information would be known about the function of the previously entered gene. This would help the researcher begin to hypothesize how the disease-causing gene results in illness.

Rebecca S. Pearlman


Nussbaum, Robert L., Roderick R. McInnes, and Huntington F. Willard. Thompson & Thompson Genetics in Medicine, 6th ed. St. Louis, MO: W. B. Saunders, 2001.

Purves, William K., et al. Life: The Science of Biology, 6th ed. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, 2001.

Seidman, Lisa, and Cynthia Moore. Basic Laboratory Methods for Biotechnology: Textbook and Laboratory Reference. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 2000.

Tamarin, Robert H. Principles of Genetics, 7th ed. Dubuque, IA: William C. Brown,2001.

Internet Resources

The Dolan DNA Learning Center. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. <http://vector.cshl.org>.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov>.

Additional topics

Medicine EncyclopediaGenetics in Medicine - Part 3Probability - The Clinical Geneticist And The Punnett Square, The Statistical Geneticist And The Chi-square Test