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My question goes to those who are concerned with computational biology algorithmics. I'm going to take a course on bioinformatics this fall; the problem, however, is that I have too little background in biology and chemistry to feel prepared for that cycle of lections (I was rather weak at these subjects at school).

Could you recommend any books that would provide a good introduction to the questions of natural sciences that bioinformatics focuses on?

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In other words, you are looking for biology books? If so, the question should be on biology.SE. Voting to close as offtopic. –  Raphael Apr 9 '12 at 11:35
From my experience in bioinformatics, you will not need much biology -- if the courses are given by computer scientists. You should ask the professor who will give the lectures how much prior knowledge is assumed. –  Raphael Apr 9 '12 at 11:36
It's a totally valid question for CS. –  Gigili Apr 9 '12 at 12:48
This was our reference book in bioinformatic course, is that what you're looking for? Could you tell us more about the content of the course? –  Gigili Apr 9 '12 at 14:11
@Gigili - really?! A book on Neural Networks appears at first glance to have little to do with every-day Bioinformatics. Computational Biology / Bioinformatics is not normally taking biological ideas and applying them in computer sciences, it is most commonly the application of computer science to solving biological problems. –  iandotkelly Apr 9 '12 at 19:57
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4 Answers

As a previous response stated, it is not an absolute requirement that you study biology in order to do bioinformatics. However, if you wish to have a background understanding of the foundational concepts such as genes, RNA, DNA, etc. then a good introductory biology book should provide everything that you need.

Molecular biology is not the kind of topic that one can simply dive into the middle of, though. Therefore, in order to understand it, you need to do some introductory reading. The best book is one that has enough detail without assuming that you wish to become a biologist.

I suggest that you look at Collins Outline of College Biology. Reading chapters 2-5 and 12-15, should give you basic information you desire. Another choice is Schaum's Outline of Biology, Third Edition, chapters 2-4 and 7-10. Both books cost less than $20.00 and are easy to understand. Hope this helps.

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As someone who came from a computer science background and led a team developing a product involving bioinformatics I can sympathize with the challenge of picking up the domain - but it is a fascinating area to work in.

As @JCEHR has pointed out, it is not an absolute requirement to study biology but it is helpful to start to pick up some of the principals. Bioinformatics is not just about molecular biology, genomic sequencing, protein expression and protein structure (don't worry if you don't understand these terms now) but I am fairly confident that this is the area that the vast majority of 'traditional bioinformatics' is applied and would be the core of any course on the subject. One of the most important measurable features of DNA, RNA and Protein is that they are a string of molecules that can be represented by a software string - the annotating, storage and (fuzzy) searching of those strings are key techniques.

As well as a general biology primer, you could also consider looking at a book that discusses genomics. The following looks good but it's kind of pricey:

A Primer of Genome Science, by Greg Gibson and Spencer V. Muse

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As a Computer Scientist who did their minor in Biochemistry, my recommendation would be Larry Gonick's Cartoon guide to Genetics.

This is not a joke. I know of several respectable Bioinformaticians who learnt genetics this way. The book explains most of what, if not everything, you will need to know and supplies the most intuitive visuals to wrap your mind around the underlying concepts. And it's a fun read.

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As others told you: it depends a little on the book that you will be using, as well as on the topics taught. Sometimes it will be rather self explanatory. However in order to be better prepared (and get used to the terminology) look at some primers on the web, like Preparata: A Biology Primer for Computer Scientists.

Do we have colleagues, or is the "biostar" site a friendly clone? See the question: "Best resources to learn molecular biology for a computer scientist".

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