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Tuesday, October 2
4:00 p.m .- 5:00 p.m.
Main Auditorium
Natcher Conference Center

Why is Sequence Comparison Useful?
David Lipman

There seems to be no question that biologists believe sequence comparison is useful. The BLAST server at NCBI alone performs over 70,000 database searches daily and over 120,000 scientific papers refer to some aspect of biological sequence comparison. Furthermore, one of the most compelling yet implicit justifications for the investment in high throughput genome sequencing projects has been the expectation that many of the gene products within this growing inventory will match previously studied proteins.

It was not always so - the first papers describing useful discoveries from sequence database searches often termed this detection of evolutionary relationships as "serendipitous" or "unexpected". Subsequent studies on protein sequences and structures showed that detectable conservation over hundreds of millions and even billions years of evolution is a rule, rather than an exception, in biology. Extrapolations made by several groups using different methods suggested that there are only about 1000 basic protein folds and a complete classification of all protein families is a realistic goal for the near future.

Though we don't yet know why most proteins evolve so slowly, it is important to realize that the conservative mode of protein evolution determines our very ability to make sense out of genome comparisons and that theoretical and empirical studies in molecular evolution are directly relevant for the practical goals of functional genomics. I will review some notable case stories from the early days of database searching and our growing understanding of the universe of protein families.

Molecular biology today is being transformed by an explosive growth of data emerging from laboratories worldwide. The challenge is to transform data into knowledge, knowledge that will lead to a better understanding of the biological processes underlying both health and disease. The mission of the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) is to develop new computational techniques for molecular biology data and to conduct basic research in the analysis of genes and genomic data. NCBI also serves as a national resource for the dissemination of data and analytic tools to the research and medical communities.


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