The Laboratory of Bioinformatics and System Biology was founded 2.5 years ago on the basis of the "Center for Life Sciences". The Center is engaged in various research in the field of biomedicine. On the basis of the Nazarbayev University, the laboratory has unique equipment that cannot be found anywhere in Central Asia.
According to U. Kairov, all world standards are used to conduct research at a high level.
"Today there is a big problem in biomedicine and science related to large data. Unfortunately, our biotechnological process and progress are so well being developed that genomic machines begin to generate a huge flow of information and data from genomes. In connection with this, the task of analyzing such data, choosing the right methodology, developing new approaches to bioinformatic analysis such as large-scale, multidimensional genomic data becomes very urgent", Ulykbek Kairov said.
The labaratory was designed specially for the purpose to develop bioinformatics on the base of the Nazarbayev University and throughout Kazakhstan.
"We carry out a number of scientific research, including scientific projects. Also, we support other scientific centers from other cities in Kazakhstan that do not have a base, specialists and the ability to conduct such large-scale genomic research and analysis of such data. The main direction of our activity is working with biomedical data of a person. We perform analysis, interpretation of complete genomes, complete exoms. This, in particular, concerns a healthy population", the scientist said.
National Laboratory Astana also performs the development of new aproaches in the methods of bioinformatic analysis, aimed at the interpretation of cancer transcripts.
"We also have a part of the research that is aimed at developing a database for the biomedical community, who are poorly versed in the basics of programming. For such a biomedical community, we create new pools, new software that allows us to correctly analyze and obtain results. We are trying to develop infrastructure aimed at improving and facilitating the analysis of such large-scale genomic data, that is, we are developing our infrastructure once. Recently, we were among the first in Central Asia to acquire a high-performance bioinformatic system, which will be aimed at solving problems of analyzing the election of genomic data", Ulykbek Kairov said.
As he said, with the advent of completely new equipment, scientists will be able to analyze the complete genomes in the sample size of one hundred complete genomes within 2-3 weeks technically. According to U. Kairov, to simply process this data, it took up to six months.
As the Head of the laboratory added, Kazakhstan lacks specialists in the field of bioinformatics, which could interpret the genome.
"After processing the data, a process of interpretation and analysis takes place in the process. That is where biologists, physicians who understand genetics and who can properly interpret the genetic changes, mutations or features that we found in the analysis process are needed. An important and urgent task is the development of general bioinformatics, the creation of schools, the teaching of this discipline in universities. Unfortunately, in Kazakhstan this is a huge problem. But we are trying to attract students and train them in small steps on the basis of our laboratory. Many students come to practice, not only students, but also schoolchildren. For example, now there are very talented schoolchildren of 10-11 grades from NISs who are interested in bioinformatics and want to be involved. Unfortunately, in our universities this discipline is not taught. Once this initiative was launched at the Kazakh National University and individual elective courses are taught there. But such specialties as bioinformatics, system biology are not the same as genetics in the classifier of the Kazakhstani education. Therefore, we are trying our best to improve and develop by the support of the university on the basis of the Center", the geneticist said.
As by U. Kairov emphasized, young employees and students are being attracted now. At the same time, as the speaker noted, it is necessary to train and conduct various practical activities.
"Students can practice, apply these methods, slowly begin to work, but the problem is that there is a shortage of specialists in this field in universities. Around the world, the big problem is that bioinformatics experts are in great demand, as then engineers, lawyers, and economists were in demand. In science, this problem now stands, not only in biomedicine, a huge amount of data is generated, they also need to be interpreted and analyzed. For example, there are huge amounts of data on exchanges, then there is weather forecasting: all data from space satellites are accumulated in a huge amount. We have the opportunity to predict some events. In our case, we use biomedical, genomic data", he added.
The human genome consists of more than three billion letters - 3 billion nucleotide bases from four combinations: adenine, guanine, cytosine, thymine.
"We try to collect all these pieces into one large genome, make comparisons with other populations and, on the basis of these comparisons, draw conclusions that we have some inherent mutations or genetic changes that are characteristic of our population. The cost of the genome is getting smaller and smaller every year. If once mankind has spent 1 billion dollars and 10 years to sequester the human genome, then we can now have one gene in the region from 3 to 5 thousand dollars. Tomorrow this amount will be reached one thousand dollars. But they also say that in five years it will be around a hundred dollars. All this goes to the full genome, a tool that can be used widely for biomedical purposes, becomes accessible to everyone", Ulykbek Kairov explained.
At the same time, U. Kairov told about the project taht is being developed. The project involves the sequencing of DNA of the Kazakh population to predict genetic changes.
"Now our initiative is raised and supported by the Ministry of Healthcare of the Republic of Kazakhstan. The project is aimed at sequencing a group of people - the Kazakh population, which we could use to correctly interpret and properly predict genetic changes characteristic only for the Kazakh population. Unfortunately, those reference genomes that we use in the analysis are based on the European population or Asian-Japanese, Chinese, etc., but not Kazakh ones. To correctly understand our genetic "background" and say that rather these changes will lead to the disease, and these are not, we need to understand the healthy basis of our population. For this, we initiated this project and want to create a reference genomic database for the Kazakh population", the speaker said.
After this, it will be possible to conduct large population studies. Also, sequencing of the genomes of children is planned, in order to identify a predisposition to certain diseases from an early age.
"For example, a comparative analysis - how can we differ at a genetic level from other populations and what changes can this lead to diseases including. On the one hand, we predict, on the other hand, we create the basis for the future biomedicine of Kazakhstan. It is very important. Plus, the sub-direction of this project is the sequencing of children from a small age. With an adult it is hard to change his behavior. For example, you have a predisposition to obesity and you need to eat less and move more, etc. The way of life of an adult is very difficult to change, and with children is much easier. Therefore, we plan to take a certain group of children, whom we can monitor and give some recommendations for improving the quality of health and life for 5-10 years. This project is supported by the Ministry of Healthcare and in general we make efforts to develop this direction", Ulykbek Kairov said.
As he noted, the Ministry now develops the program and the budget of the project.
"If we begin to do it massively, tomorrow there will necessarily be a problem of analysis and interpretation of data. We must train specialists and give the opportunity to young people. Within 5 years we gradually cut off from 1000 to 10 thousand individuals of the Kazakh population, including a group of children. This will be a good reserve for understanding what the genomic architecture of the Kazakh population is. Accordingly, it is impossible to do on only one person, you need to create a reference sample. We will use this in analyzing many diseases", the Head of the laboratory explained.
The main aim of the project is to make a step so that after five years our future generation of Kazakhstanis could apply this information, particularly in the biomedicine area.
Video by Azamat Aliyev