Bioinformatics vs computational biology

About a year ago, someone asked a question about terminology on the Biology Stack Exchange site: are the terms “bioinformatics” and “computational biology” synonyms, or do they refer to different things? My initial response was this.

I think this question is on topic here, although yes you would definitely get a lot of answers at BioStars. But consider this from the bioinformatics tag wiki on this site.

Bioinformatics is a broad field that interfaces a variety of life science disciplines (biology, genetics, biochemistry, biophysics, etc) with a variety of quantitative sciences (mathematics, statistics, computer science, engineering, etc). Bioinformatics techniques typically involve developing and applying software and algorithms to computationally intensive biological questions, such as those common in structural biology, genomics, sequence analysis, and systems biology.

Some scientists draw a distinction between the term bioinformatics and computational biology. While these areas indeed broad and diverse, these distinctions in terms are not consistent or well-defined.

Case in point: @GWW’s answer cites two different definitions, while another has already been suggested in response to his answer (as a comment). More definitions are sure to come from additional answers, comments, and edits. None of these definitions are necessarily wrong, but in the same way none are “right” as there is no objective way to determine which of the definitions is “better” than the others. If you were to ask 5 experts in the field, you are likely to get 5 different definitions.

I still stand by this answer, but when the same topic came up on Twitter recently, Luis Pedro Coelho made an excellent point. He pointed out that while there is no unanymous consensus on the issue, the focus of the top-ranked journals in those fields is telling: Oxford’s Bioinformatics is definitely focused on the informatics side, while PLoS Computational Biology is definitely focused on biology. While this doesn’t change the fact that some will disagree on definitions, which types of articles are published in which journals do have a significant influence on how scientists view these fields.


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