The Challenges and Benefits of Applying Machine Learning to Biology



Aug 31, 20233 min read


The Challenges and Benefits of Applying Machine Learning to Biology


Combining the fields of biology and machine learning presents both challenges and opportunities. This article explores the importance of knowledge sharing, the difficulties of adapting machine learning to biomolecular data, and the need for bridging the gap between tech and bio expertise. Additionally, it discusses the potential benefits of integrating multiple 'omics' technologies and the ability to detect diseases before symptoms arise.

The Power of Knowledge Sharing:

Knowledge sharing is essential for fostering collaboration and innovation within teams. By openly communicating and sharing experiences, individuals can demonstrate the benefits of knowledge sharing over knowledge hoarding. Performance reviews can be utilized to ensure that knowledge sharing remains a priority. Mentoring plays a crucial role in facilitating the transfer of knowledge within teams, preventing knowledge silos from forming.

Integrating Knowledge Management into Processes:

To optimize knowledge sharing, it should be integrated into existing processes. By making it a requirement for team members to share lessons learned, discuss risks and mitigations, and talk about past experiences before starting a new process, organizations can create a culture of knowledge sharing. This ensures that the team has the necessary knowledge to support products or services, benefiting shareholders and customers.

Challenges of Applying Machine Learning to Biology:

Adapting machine learning methods to biomolecular data presents unique challenges. With billions of data points for each individual, the classical big-p little-n problem arises. Featurization techniques can be utilized to leverage existing statistical learning or deep learning methods. Care must be taken at every step of the process, from study design to data analysis, to optimize for machine learning. Overfitting and confounding variables need to be controlled for, especially when dealing with large datasets.

The Role of Bridgers in Techbio Companies:

To bridge the gap between tech and bio, three types of people need to be hired. The first group includes individuals with expertise in both fields, who can effectively communicate and understand the nuances of each. The second group comprises biologists with a strong imagination and intuition about mechanisms and complexity. The third group consists of individuals who have fluently worked in both tech and bio, acting as the ultimate bridgers. Having all three groups of people is essential for building a balanced techbio company.

The Importance of Multiomics:

Multiomics, the integration of multiple 'omics' technologies, allows for a more comprehensive understanding of biological systems. By combining genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, and metabolomics, researchers can study life in a more holistic manner. This approach provides a deeper and more nuanced analysis of biological data, enabling new insights and discoveries.


Applying machine learning to biology is a complex endeavor that requires knowledge sharing, careful study design, and the integration of multiple 'omics' technologies. While challenges exist, the potential benefits are significant. By leveraging existing tools and adapting them to biomolecular data, researchers can unlock new insights and improve disease detection. To succeed in this field, organizations must prioritize knowledge sharing, hire individuals with expertise in both tech and bio, and embrace the power of multiomics.

Actionable Advice:

1. Foster a culture of knowledge sharing within your team by openly communicating the benefits and providing examples of how it helps the collective effort.

2. Incorporate knowledge management into existing processes, making it a requirement for team members to share lessons learned and discuss past experiences before starting new projects.

3. Invest in hiring individuals who can bridge the gap between tech and bio, combining expertise in both fields to drive innovation and understanding in the application of machine learning to biology.

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