Genomics has an obsession, and it’s called Big Data. However, unlike other obsessions, this one will probably not ruin anyone’s life—maybe only a few late nights or weekend plans for the researcher on a tight deadline.
This preoccupation was born out of necessity. It began as an innate need to understand how our genetic makeup controls every facet of human life, from our greatest mental and physical achievements to the debilitating illnesses that render us helpless to our own body systems.
The demand for ever more information by the genomics field began about two decades ago with the advent of microarray technology. This was the first time scientists were introduced to truly large sets of genomic data that required quantitative analysis and training. Assigning values to tiny fluorescent grids on glass slides and then sifting through piles of information about which genes were upregulated or downregulated became a fixation for many research groups. At the time scientific presentations were riddled with heat map displays and descriptions of dye vs probe ratios, clustering, and normalization values. Yet, this was to be just the beginning of the field of genomics’ fascination with mass quantities of data.
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