Bioinformatics as a Tool for Training in theScientific Method

J.F De Mesquita


Within the Medical School of the Federal University of Rio de JaneiroState (UNIRIO), a course, named Scientific Initiation, allows students to develop a  protocol using the scientific method under the supervision of an established researcher. Surprisingly, a group of ten medical students sought out thebioinformatics laboratory to carry-out their respective projects. Upon accepting the challenge of guiding the future physicians by the paths of the computational biology, the starting point was the article “Ataxin-2 intermediate-length polyglutamine expansions are associated withincreased risk for ALS”. Subsequent to initial meetings and a thorough literature review using the OMIM (Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man) and PUBMED databases, the students defined their objective: defining a way to structurally analyze proteins carrying mutations detrimental to humansusing computational tools. The steps involvedincluded a search for natural variants of the protein in the ExPASy Proteomics Server, investigating the resolved native and variant protein structuresin the Protein Data Bank and, when these were not available, thecomparative or ab initiostructural modelling would be made. At the end of the semester, students were able to write a project in theformat required by funding agencies. Thisundertaking familiarized student with scientificareas not normally addressed in the medical curriculum and introduced hands-on learning of the scientific method.


Education,Bioinformatics, Medicine.

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