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What is Bioinformatics?

As medicine and technology continue to intersect, bioinformatics is the science that is driving the future forward. This distinct discipline is a hybrid that draws on both biological and computer science expertise. As medicine and technology continue to intersect, bioinformatics is the science that is driving the future forward. This distinct discipline is a hybrid that draws on both biological and computer science expertise. Bioinformatics is a subsect of informatics that has far-reaching implications to be sure.

What is Bioinformatics?

Bioinformatics involves the application of computer technology to manage volumes of biological information. Computers are used to not only store, but also gather, analyze and integrate biological and genetic data that can then be applied for such uses as gene-based drug discovery and development.

The discipline grew out of the massive amounts of information accumulated by the Human Genome Project, which has required advanced computer technology to help sequence the entire human genome, which amounts to some 3 billion base pairs.

Thanks to human genome research, applications for bioinformatics extend to a number of arenas. Applications include:

  • Basic research: Bioinformatics is relied upon to assist with research into such areas as comparative and evolutionary genomics, functional genomics and genome wide association analysis. The mass of genomic data generated by high performance technologies has made this discipline vital for storing, managing and analyzing genomic information commonly used in biological research today.
  • Biomedicine: The application of bioinformatics is proving quite useful in this field as the human genome has helped unlock the genetic components for many diseases. Potential applications include drug discovery, personalized medicine, preventative medicine and gene therapy.
  • Microbiology: The potential applications here involve the study of microorganism genomes to assist with biotechnology developments, waste cleanup, climate change, antibiotic resistance and more.
  • Agriculture: By sequencing the genomes of animals and plants, genetic knowledge can be gleaned to help produce stronger crops while improving the quality of livestock.

Working in Bioinformatics

As bioinformatics emerges as its own distinct field, there are a number of positions those with proper qualifications can pursue. Some of the job titles in bioinformatics include:

  • Bioinformatics specialist: Professionals working in this capacity perform duties such as providing bioinformatics and data analysis services, training on available tools and offering scientific writing assistance to researchers.
  • Bioinformatics research scientist: These scientists apply information technology and computer science in the study of biology. They research, study, analyze and process genomic and other forms of biological information using the theory of bioinformatics to research and potentially uncover previously unknown information.
  • Bioinformatics analyst: These professionals analyze, manipulate and interpret large data sets for use in research.
  • Biology informatics software engineer: Biology informatics engineers’ tasks include creating or advancing software for use in bioinformatics research. They may work in experimental design, help develop new tools to analyze and validate data, and seek ways to extend data acquisition capabilities.

Career Outlook

The U.S. Department of Labor doesn’t break out bioinformatics in its Occupational Outlook Handbook, but a look into the medical science and e-health field gives an indication of what professionals in this arena can anticipate. The median annual salary for the field was $76,980, according to a 2012 Bureau of Labor Statistics national survey of all fields. Job growth is anticipated at 13% through 2022.

Students interested in pursuing bioinformatics are encouraged to conduct their own research. Job availability, salaries and requirements may vary based on employer and geographical region.

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