Machine Learning Enters Bioinformatics and its Future is Bright

Riley Hsia our consultant managing the role
Author: Riley Hsia
Posting date: 9/12/2019 3:08 PM
Ever wondered how your email system knows which emails to show you and which to put in your junk or spam folder? Enter Machine Learning. It learns what you open and read and after a time can differentiate what you ignore, toss, or move to spam. Now imagine that same type of learning in the life sciences.

As scientific advances move toward Data and Machine Learning to scale their knowledge, you can imagine the possibilities. After all, as you read this, trends in the life sciences, specifically with an eye toward bioinformatics showcase machine learning such as genome sequencing and the evolutionary of tree structures.

Human and Machine Learning with a Common Goal


There has been so much data provided over the past few decades, no mere mortal could possibly collect and analyze it all. It is beyond the ability of human researchers to effectively examine and process such massive amounts of information without a computer’s help. 

So, machines must learn the algorithms and they do so in any number of ways. For the most part, it’s a comparison of what we know, or is already in a databank, with the information we have and don’t yet know. Unrecognized genes are identified by machines taught their function.

The Future is Bright


Machine Learning is giving other fields within the life sciences both roots and wings. 

Imagine scientists being able to gain insight and learn from early detection predictions. This type of knowledge is already in play using neuroimaging techniques for CT and MRI capabilities. This is useful on a number of levels, not the least of which is in brain function; think Alzheimer’s Research, for example. 

The hurdle? It isn’t the availability of such vast amounts of data, but the available computing resources. Add to that, humans will be the ones to check and counter-check validity which can in turn become more time-consuming and labor intensive than the computer’s original analysis.

And it’s this hurdle which leads to a caveat emptor, or “buyer beware” of sorts.

Caveat Emptor: Continue to Question Your Predictions


In other words, how much can you trust the discoveries made using Machine Learning techniques in bioinformatics?

The answer? Never assume. Always double check. Verify. But as you do so, know this. Work is already in progress for next-generation systems which can assess their own work. 

Some discoveries cannot be reproduced. Why? Sometimes it’s more about asking the right question. Currently, a machine might look at two different clusters of data and see that they’re completely different. Rather than state the differences, we’re still working on a system that has the machine asking a different kind of question. You might think of it as a more human question that goes a bit deeper. 

Imagine a machine that might say something noting the fact that some of the data is grouped together, but if different, it might say while it sees similarities, but am uncertain about these other groups of data. They’re not quite the same, but they’re close. 

Machine Learning is intended to learn from itself, from its users, and from its predictions. Though a branch of statistics and computer science, it isn’t held to following explicit instructions. Like humans, it learns from data albeit at a much faster rate of speed. And its possibilities are only getting started.

Want to see where Bioinformatics can take your career? We may have a role for you. If you’re interested in Big Data and Analytics, take a look at our our current vacancies or contact one of our recruitment consultants to learn more.

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