Historically, the term ‘Bioinformatics’ was coined by Paulien Hogeweg and Ben Hesper in 1970. With Data Science and Analytics finding its scope and value in every area of life, Bioinformatics has emerged as one of the most opted subjects by students looking for a career in the field of biology and medicine. Basically, the subject is a blend of Biology, which includes Genomics, Molecular-biology, Micro-biology, Bio-technology and Bio- chemistry, as well as Computer Science, Mathematics and Statistics. Or, in other words, it is the management of Biological data with the aid of computer-technology.
Some interesting hands-on knowledge that can be obtained through the course are as follows:
- Analyzing DNA sequences to determine mutations and anomalies.
- Understanding the importance and role of protein structure in protein functions
- Generating model structure of proteins
- Mining Biological data using statistical tools and software, etc.
Scope of the subject
Research in the field of medicine and biology are currently on a fast pace and biomedical research is quite difficult without Bioinformatics. Customization or manufacturing personalized medicines is a vital requirement in the near future and the subject finds a wide scope around the world. The subject is one of the most sought after for a Masters in Biotechnology and it involves an in-depth practical study. Image and signal processing are bioinformatics techniques that allow extraction of useful results from large amounts of raw data in the field of experimental molecular biology.
Sub-Areas of Bioinformatics
The research in bioinformatics focusses on three key areas mainly. They are, Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, Genetics and Genomics, and System Biology. The fields of bioinformatics and computational biology deal with the questions about the biological composition, structure, function, and evolution of molecules, cells, tissues, and organisms using mathematics, statistics, informatics and computer science. This field can ask can ask questions and achieve unique insights not imaginable before the genomic era because these approaches allow wide, in-depth and quantitative analyses of biological phenomena and the data obtained from many disciplines. Bioinformatics emphasizes on informatics and statistics on the one hand, while computation biology specializes on the development of theoretical methods, mathematical modelling and calculation techniques to arrive at the answers to these questions. Both the areas are interlinked to practical studies and observations. A few examples of bioinformatics studies include the analysis, integration and prediction of protein function from sequence and structural information, and Chem-informatics which involves comparisons of protein ligands to identify off-target effects of drugs. Instances of computational biology consist of activities such as the simulation of protein motion and folding and how proteins interact with each other.
Genomics refers to the study of the structure and function of genomes, whereas, Genetics handles the study of DNA based inheritance and individual variations. Both the fields apply bio-informatics and statistical techniques in order to apply the data generated from DNA-RNA sequencing, proteomics, microarrays, electron microscopy, or optical methods for nucleic acid structure determination. Massive amounts of data is generated in a fast manner by technologies that can conduct in-depth sequencing or sequencing of entire microbial communities.
System Biology is that part of science that seeks to understand the entire functioning of cells, tissues and organisms. Various mathematical models, simulations and statistical analyses are used by Computational system Biologists to understand homeostasis, system responses to perturbation, dissecting protein and nucleic acid networks. Researchers often combine computation with experimental work to address these questions.
Types of courses offered in this field of study
Similar to any area of specialization, there are three types of study programs offered under the Bioinformatics field worldwide. They are,
- Bachelor’s program
- Master’s Degree program and
- Research programs.
Top Universities that offer programs in Bioinformatics
There are many reputed science universities that offer programs in Bioinformatics worldwide. To quote a few,
Programs at Harvard University’s Department of Bio-statistics
Columbia University’s Department of Biomedical Informatics
- MA in Biomedical Informatics
- Clinical Informatics Subspecialty Fellowship
- MD/PhD in Biomedical Informatics
- Postdoctoral Fellowship
- Biomedical Informatics MS Degree
- University of Pennsylvania
University of California—Berkeley’s Computational Biology, Bioinformatics, Genomics Faculty
University of Washington’s Systems Biology & Bioinformatics
Johns Hopkins University’s MS in Bioinformatics program
Washington University’s Center for Regenerative Medicine
University of Michigan’s PhD and Master’s program
Georgia Institute of Technology’s structural Biology and Meta-genomics
The Australian National University’s MS(Advanced) in Quantitative Biology and Bioinformatics
Apart from the above, there are numerous other universities that offer programs in Bioinformatics at various levels in different countries. It is suggested that the student wishing to take up a course in this field must choose the University wisely as per his or her requirement and interest.
A degree in Bioinformatics assures great demand in the job market. Bioinformatics Scientist is predicted to be one of the fastest growing and high demand job-profile in the next ten years. The role of Medical Scientist is predicted to grow at 8% from in the following decade, resulting in 9,000 new jobs. Other job-roles include the top industries in the government, private, scientific, and technical services sectors such as Bioinformatician, Bioinformatics Software Engineer and Bioinformatics Analyst. Some of the career fields and positions that a candidate can hold with a degree in bioinformatics are as follows:
- Sequence analysis
- Computational chemists
- Bio analysts
- Professor Science
- Research Assistant
- Bioinformatics Scientist
- Bioinformatics Analyst
- Junior Research Fellow
- Research Associate
- Bioinformatics Software Developer
Apart from the above, a Bioinformatics graduate can also look into the following opportunities:
Individual contributor - People in these positions generally work on a specific area of research of their interest. People trained in bioinformatics are being hired to support the research of many scientific labs in both the academia and commercial sector.
Core facilities – The central resource for labs in an institution created in many educational areas are called core facilities. People in such groups often have a myriad of talents and work on many different research projects with researchers in multitudes of work environments.
Educators - Teaching bioinformatics is in demand for at many different levels. Some Ph.D. level Bioinformaticians will pursue a career in academia, build an individualistic research plan and teach at a higher level. In addition, there are a number of institutions who host a dedicated facility to teach bioinformatics to people inside the institution and to the greater part of the society around the world.
Software developers - Another area that employs bioinformatics is the invention and development of new algorithms and new tools. There are corporates and organisations constantly working at building and deploying computational tools. Bioinformatics software developers are also employed within core facilities and within individual research labs.