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BMC Evol Biol. 2015 May 1;15:76. doi: 10.1186/s12862-015-0352-y.

Darwin and Fisher meet at biotech: on the potential of computational molecular evolution in industry.

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Institute of Applied Simulations, School of Life Sciences and Facility Management, Zürich University of Applied Sciences, Einsiedlerstrasse 31a, Wädenswil, 8820, Switzerland.
Department of Computer Science, ETH, Zurich, Switzerland.
Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics, Lausanne, Switzerland.



Today computational molecular evolution is a vibrant research field that benefits from the availability of large and complex new generation sequencing data - ranging from full genomes and proteomes to microbiomes, metabolomes and epigenomes. The grounds for this progress were established long before the discovery of the DNA structure. Specifically, Darwin's theory of evolution by means of natural selection not only remains relevant today, but also provides a solid basis for computational research with a variety of applications. But a long-term progress in biology was ensured by the mathematical sciences, as exemplified by Sir R. Fisher in early 20th century. Now this is true more than ever: The data size and its complexity require biologists to work in close collaboration with experts in computational sciences, modeling and statistics.


Natural selection drives function conservation and adaptation to emerging pathogens or new environments; selection plays key role in immune and resistance systems. Here I focus on computational methods for evaluating selection in molecular sequences, and argue that they have a high potential for applications. Pharma and biotech industries can successfully use this potential, and should take the initiative to enhance their research and development with state of the art bioinformatics approaches.


This review provides a quick guide to the current computational approaches that apply the evolutionary principles of natural selection to real life problems - from drug target validation, vaccine design and protein engineering to applications in agriculture, ecology and conservation.

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