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Bioinformatics

Program Description

Just the Facts

Bioinformatics. 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.

This program is available in these options:

  • Certificate / Diploma
  • Associate degree
  • Bachelor's degree
  • Graduate Certificate
  • Master's degree
  • Doctoral degree

High School Courses

See the high school courses recommended for programs in this career cluster:

See the high school courses recommended for programs in this pathway:



Additional Information

Students with an interest in biology and computer science should consider the exciting and growing field of bioinformatics. Bioinformatics is also known as computational science.

Students in these programs learn to use computer science to make sense of biological data.

Bioinformatics seeks solutions. Research in molecular biology is giving too much data for biologists to sort through and apply. For example, human genome research deals with over three billion DNA sequences.

Luckily, technology has an answer. More powerful, faster and smarter computers and software have been developed.

Through the use of technology, researchers are able to bring together all areas of science to understand one area and make sense of all the data. The results are applied to biological problems to understand them and find solutions.

"Bioinformatics is at the crossroads of biology, mathematics and computer science. We observe nature, we model with science and we solve problems with computer science based on those models," says Forbes Burkowski. He is a structural bioinformatics professor.

Bioinformatics is used in the health and medical field for doing things like understanding and preventing disease. Other industries such as agriculture, environmental protection, forestry and fisheries can also benefit from this new method of problem-solving.

"Students will have to consider what is important to them: exploration of nature or applications to health care," says Burkowski.

You can study bioinformatics at the undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate level. Some schools offer certificate programs for students who already have undergraduate degrees in a related field of study.

Bachelor's degrees generally take four years. Add another two for your master's and another two (often more) for your PhD.

Jobs will be available to grads of all levels of education. This field attracts many students because it is so new and there are many discoveries to be made. It can be compared to researching computer technology 40 or 50 years ago.

"The ultimate objective is to understand the processes of the cell so that we can modify and fix wayward processes," says Burkowski. The potential is there to help cure diseases such as cancer, viral infections and the hundreds of diseases caused by genetic mutations.

Before this technology was available, people who were gaining information in one area didn't know about information in other areas.

"We are now approaching the first time in history when, from a knowledge representation and computational framework point of view, we can combine all fields of science to enable improved understanding of extremely complicated biological systems," says Bruce Aronow. He's a professor at and co-director of the State of Ohio Third Frontier Computational Medicine Center.

Aronow and his co-workers develop and use computational systems to first model and integrate our current knowledge. Then they seek to use their discoveries for improved prediction, prevention and treatment of disease.

To do this, all areas of knowledge and research results are brought together in biological systems modeling frameworks to focus on how groups of the parts that make up our bodies work so well together when we're healthy, and then fail in various ways when we get sick.

Sound complicated? Simply put, researchers study the various biological building block "things," what these things do and how they are built, and then what happens when different parts of these things are modified genetically or environmentally.

"Using systems-biology approaches provides a new way to understand evolution, and a new way to understand health," says Aronow. "It's beautiful, wonderful and powerful."

Students who enter bioinformatics should be interested in studying molecules. Have you ever thought about how amazing proteins are? Every time you move a muscle, think a thought or process a visual image, your proteins are in action. As you read this sentence, protein molecules are contracting and moving muscle and neurotransmitter molecules.

"They are doing their work at speeds measured in nanoseconds in a very intricate symphony of molecular events.I cannot think of a more awe-inspiring study than life processes at the molecular level and I believe that it is never too soon to start appreciating these little miracles that happen every second of your life," says Burkowski.

In high school, a good foundation in chemistry, biology and mathematics is important. Burkowski says computer science skills can come later and more easily with a good foundation in math.

Textbooks will be the main additional expense for students.


Links

Occupational Outlook Handbook
For more information related to this field of study, see: Biological Scientists

For more information related to Bioinformatics Degrees, see: Scientific Research and Development Services

NASA Center for Computational Sciences
News and links from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration

National Human Genome Research Institute
Get the latest news

Biotechnology Industry Organization
This is a good resource site on the biotechnology industry as a whole