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
"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 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
"Using systems-biology approaches provides a new way to understand evolution,
and a new way to understand health," says Aronow. "It's beautiful, wonderful
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.
Occupational Outlook Handbook
For more information related to this field of study, see: Biological
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