A program that focuses on the application of computer-based technologies and services to biological, biomedical, and biotechnology research. Includes instruction in algorithms, network architecture, principles of software design, human interface design, usability studies, search strategies, database management and data mining, digital image processing, computer graphics and animation, CAD, computer programming, and applications to experimental design and analysis and to specific quantitative, modeling, and analytical studies in the various biological specializations.

Careers in bioinformatics focus on accessing, revealing, or interpreting data stored in organic matter.

Every gene, cell, and protein contains a wealth of information that can be extracted, analyzed, and used to further biological research. Bioinformaticians use complex math and specialized computer programs to make sense of this information by converting it to numerical data. This data can then be visualized and interpreted for a variety of scientific purposes ranging from education to cloning.

Data sharing is at the heart of most bioinformatics work; it takes a village to sequence a genome, and many databases, resources, and assistive programs are open source. This means that bioinformaticians and their peers in all areas of the field can contribute to them, leading to opportunities for more comprehensive analysis.

One of the big bioinformatics projects was mapping the human genome, an immensely complex computational process that took 13 years to complete! Now the information catalogued during that project is accessible to all kinds of scientists working with human genetics; this type of work is an amazing resource that many people benefit from either directly or indirectly.

Work in bioinformatics may include...

  • Creating or maintaining databases for rapid sequencing
  • Developing algorithms to help process large amounts of data
  • Designing programs that make it possible to visualize biodata
  • Testing and modifying software
  • Conducting research and presenting findings

Employers in bioinformatics range from independent labs to universities and hospitals seeking research fellows.

While the occasional government agency or tech company may hire specialists in bioinformatics, the work they do is specialized enough that it is most commonly applied in a research context. Genetic testing companies frequently hire bioinformaticians to organize their data. Depending on the work environment, a bioinformatician's work can resemble that of a lab scientist, a computer programmer, or a futuristic librarian.

Anyone looking to study bioinformatics needs a solid foundation in its basic components: biology, chemistry, math, and computer science. While some jobs on the software side of things will hire candidates with a four-year Bachelor's degree and skills in programming, biology, and mathematics (specifically calculus, statistics, and linear algebra), it's more common for jobs in the field to require graduate study in bioinformatics. Most lab scientists and advanced bioinformaticians have a PhD or a Master's degree with a good deal of experience in their specialty. Those looking to join the ranks should be confident in their programming skills (R, Python, Javascript, and C++ are languages in demand) and knowledgeable about the discipline they're in, whether its plant cells or fungal data.

Bioinformatics is an emerging field whose growth has accelerated rapidly due to technological advances. If you're interested in a career right at the intersection of computer science and biology, bioinformatics is waiting for you.

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