Thirty years ago, biologists worked at laboratory benches, peering down microscopes, surrounded by petri dishes. Today, they are just as likely to be found in an office, poring over lines of code on computers. The use of computers in biology has radically transformed who biologists are, what they do, and how they understand life. In Life Out of Sequence, Hallam Stevens looks inside this new landscape of digital scientific work. Stevens chronicles the emergence of bioinformatics - the mode of working across and between biology, computing, mathematics, and statistics - from the 1960s to the present, seeking to understand how kwledge about life is made in and through virtual spaces. He shows how scientific data moves from living organisms into DNA sequencing machines, through software, and into databases, images, and scientific publications. What he reveals is a biology very different from the one of predigital days: a biology that includes t only biologists but also highly interdisciplinary teams of managers and workers; a biology that is more centered on DNA sequencing, but one that understands sequence in terms of dynamic cascades and highly interconnected networks. Life Out of Sequence thus offers the computational biology community welcome context for their own work while also giving the public a frontline perspective of what is going on in this rapidly changing field.
Hallam Stevens is assistant professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.