Understanding nature's mute but elegant language of living cells is the quest of modern molecular biology. From an alphabet of only four letters representing the chemical subunits of DNA emerges a syntax of life processes whose most complex expression is man. The unraveling and use of this "alphabet" to form new "words and phrases" is a central focus of the field of molecular biology. The staggering volume of molecular data and its cryptic and subtle patterns have led to an absolute requirement for computerized databases and analysis tools. The challenge is in finding new approaches to deal with the volume and complexity of data and in providing researchers with better access to analysis and computing tools to advance understanding of our genetic legacy and its role in health and disease.
The late Senator Claude Pepper recognized the importance of computerized information processing methods for the conduct of biomedical research and sponsored legislation that established the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) on November 4, 1988, as a division of the National Library of Medicine (NLM) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NLM was chosen for its experience in creating and maintaining biomedical databases, and because as part of NIH, it could establish an intramural research program in computational molecular biology. The collective research components of NIH make up the largest biomedical research facility in the world.
As a national resource for molecular biology information, NCBI's mission is to develop new information technologies to aid in the understanding of fundamental molecular and genetic processes that control health and disease. More specifically, the NCBI has been charged with creating automated systems for storing and analyzing knowledge about molecular biology, biochemistry, and genetics; facilitating the use of such databases and software by the research and medical community; coordinating efforts to gather biotechnology information both nationally and internationally; and performing research into advanced methods of computer-based information processing for analyzing the structure and function of biologically important molecules.
To carry out its diverse responsibilities, NCBI:
- conducts research on fundamental biomedical problems at the molecular level using mathematical and computational methods
- maintains collaborations with several NIH institutes, academia, industry, and other governmental agencies
- fosters scientific communication by sponsoring meetings, workshops, and lecture series
- supports training on basic and applied research in computational biology for postdoctoral fellows through the NIH Intramural Research Program
- engages members of the international scientific community in informatics research and training through the Scientific Visitors Program
- develops, distributes, supports, and coordinates access to a variety of databases and software for the scientific and medical communities
- develops and promotes standards for databases, data deposition and exchange, and biological nomenclature