|MadSci Network: Biochemistry|
Thanks for your great question. I moved into bioinformatics quite recently and I think it's one of the most exciting areas in biological science at the moment.
First, people argue a lot about what bioinformatics actually is. I like to define it as "the application of computational methods to biological problems". This is quite a wide definition. Some people use a more narrow definition, which revolves around the analysis of sequence data. As you know, many genomes are being sequenced at the moment - the human genome is the most famous, but there are over 70 complete microbial genomes, plus fruit fly, zebra fish, maize, Arabidopsis and many others. Have a look at the NCBI for more info. The amount of DNA and gene sequence data produced is very large and a lot of bioinformatics is concerned with developing ways of analysing all this sequence data.
As with all science, the limitations are only imposed by your imagination! Some commonly asked questions might be: How can I predict genes in my DNA sequence? How can I identify genes that may be involved with disease? Can I work out the relatedness of organisms by looking at gene or protein sequences? Can I gain insights into proteins by modelling their structure using the known structure of a related protein?
I guess the main limitation of bioinformatics is that it should only be used to suggest experiments. In other words, bioinformatics makes predictions, and we then go back to the lab to test those predictions. Also, sequences can't tell us everything - for instance, there are modifications made to nucleic acids and proteins and the environment in the cell is often an important consideration. These things are hard to model in a computer. But I believe that computational biology is every bit as much of a 'real science' as practical bench work.
If you're interested in both biology and computing, and you have a reasonably good background in computing, maths and statistics, bioinformatics could be for you! The NCBI website that I mentioned above is a good place to start. I also have a list of bioinformatics resources on my my website. And don't forget Google, a great place to search for all things.
Try the links in the MadSci Library for more information on Biochemistry.