With the advent of increasingly fast computers and sophisticated analytical machines, the traditional processes of research biologists have been augmented and in some cases replaced by approaches that allow huge amounts of data to be analysed in almost real time.
Biology has become an increasingly data-rich subject. Data mining is the new frontier. Therefore, we have genomics growing from genetics, metabolomics from biochemistry, proteomics from the study of proteins and the new term to describe the data itself is the genome (not so new), the microbiome, the metabolome, the proteome etc. Moreover, the new machines, mass spectrometers, next generation gene sequencers, are the engines that produce the data, which is then mined by software algorithms of increasing specialisation. Whereas the traditional biologist might have taken years to collect data in the field, say surveying polar bears, to obtain enough data to write one paper, the omics researcher can carry out one experiment in a week that will give so much data that will produce huge numbers of potential publications.
Newcastle has many groundbreaking omics researchers, including my colleague metabolomics expert Professor Hugh Dunstan studying the chemical pathways involved in metabolism of bacteria with a view to understanding the complex defence armament that bacteria use to respond to threats in their environment. Recently appointed marine biologist Dr Megan Huggett is addressing that all-important question of the future impacts of temperature change on marine invertebrates by analysing their microbiomes looking for the types of microbial cues that are important in the marine life cycles of animals such as sea urchins and abalone.