A bioinformatics scientist could...
|Envision and build a database for researchers to share their biological data and observe how they interconnect.||Help create personalized medicines by working with a team to evaluate thousands of individuals’ genetic code and biochemistry.|
|Create computer tools to track and analyze the patterns of viral outbreaks, like flu, around the country.||Program an algorithm that will help piece together the structure and function of a protein.|
Key Facts & Information
|Overview||The human body can be viewed as a machine made up of complex processes. Scientists are working on figuring out how these processes work and on sequencing and correlating the sections of the genome that correspond to the individual processes. (The genome is an organism's complete set of genetic material.) In the course of doing so, they generate large amounts of data. So large, in fact, that to make sense of it, the data must be organized into databases and labeled. This is where bioinformatics scientists step in. They design databases and develop algorithms for processing and analyzing genomic and other biological information. These scientists work at the crossroads of biology and computer science.|
|Key Requirements||Logical, focused, and detail-oriented personality, ability to reason and think critically, good communication skills|
|Minimum Degree||Master's degree|
|Subjects to Study in High School||Biology, chemistry, physics, geometry, algebra II, calculus; if available: computer science, statistics|
|Projected Job Growth (2010-2020)||More Slowly than Average (3% to 6%) In Demand!|
Training, Other Qualifications
In order to find a position as a bioinformatics scientist, candidates must have experience working in a biological laboratory.
Education and Training
The minimum degree required to qualify for a position as a bioinformatics scientists is a master's degree in bioinformatics, computer engineering, computational biology, computer science, or related field. Many employers prefer candidates with PhD degrees, as these individuals have a higher level of expertise. Candidates with PhDs are also equipped to teach the university level.
Nature of the Work
Owen White is associate director of bioinformatics at the Institute for Genome Sciences, University of Maryland School of Medicine. In this video, Dr. White discusses what the bioinformatics field includes and why the need for bioinformatics scientists will increase in the future.
Bioinformatics scientists work at the intersection of biology, computer science, and information technology (IT), helping identify the genetic causes of human, animal, and plant development and disease. They create the methods and algorithms for integrating knowledge about genes to help other scientists analyze and interpret gene-expression data. Bioinformatics scientists design and apply the computer systems and databases used to organize and analyze large amounts of genomic, pharmacological, and other biological data. Large amounts of data are generated by biologists and geneticists through research, and this information must be stored, organized, labeled, and mined so that scientists around the world can share and work with it to make discoveries. Bioinformatics scientists conduct research to study huge molecular datasets including DNA, microarray, and proteomics data.
Bioinformatics scientists develop software and custom scripts that automate data mining and manipulation. They develop these tools using Perl, PHP, MySQL, and other computer languages. Bioinformatics scientists also use standard tools such as Basic Local Alignment Search Tool (BLAST) and other sequence comparison software packages for data mining.
Bioinformatics scientists assist in the preparation of journal publications and present their findings at professional meetings and seminars.
Bioinformatics scientists work for private corporations, universities doing genomics and genetics research, and for government agencies such as the National Institutes of Health. Bioinformatics scientists typically work regular hours. However, longer hours are not uncommon. Evening or weekend work may be necessary to meet deadlines or to solve specific problems. As networks expand, telecommuting is increasingly common for many bioinformatics scientists, enabling them to work from remote locations through modems, laptops, electronic mail, and the Internet.
Bioinformatics scientists may be required to work odd or long hours in front of their desks or in the database laboratory.
On the Job
- Analyze large molecular datasets such as raw microarray data, genomic sequence data, and proteomics data for clinical or basic research purposes.
- Consult with researchers to analyze problems, recommend technology-based solutions, or determine computational strategies.
- Manipulate publicly accessible, commercial, or proprietary genomic, proteomic, or post-genomic databases.
- Communicate research results through conference presentations, scientific publications, or project reports.
- Compile data for use in activities such as gene-expression profiling, genome annotation, and structural bioinformatics.
- Create novel computational approaches and analytical tools as required by research goals.
- Create or modify Web-based bioinformatics tools.
- Design and apply bioinformatics algorithms including unsupervised and supervised machine learning, dynamic programming, or graphic algorithms.
- Develop data models and databases.
- Develop new software applications or customize existing applications to meet specific scientific project needs.
- Direct the work of technicians and information technology staff applying bioinformatics tools or applications in areas such as proteomics, transcriptomics, metabolomics, and clinical bioinformatics.
- Improve user interfaces to bioinformatics software and databases.
- Instruct others in the selection and use of bioinformatics tools.
- Prepare summary statistics of information regarding human genomes.
- Provide statistical and computational tools for biologically based activities such as genetic analysis, measurement of gene expression, and gene function determination.
- Test new and updated bioinformatics tools and software.
- Collaborate with software developers in creating and modifying commercial bioinformatics software.
- Confer with departments, such as marketing, business development, and operations, to coordinate product development or improvement.
- Keep abreast of new biochemistries, instrumentation, or software by reading scientific literature and attending professional conferences.
- Recommend new systems and processes to improve operations.
Companies That Hire Bioinformatics Scientists
Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...
- A Prescription for Success: Drugs & Your Genetics
- A Sweet Sequence: The Cacao Genome
- Catalytic RNA and Structure
- Creating a Kidney: How Stem Cells Might Be Used to Bioengineer a Vital Organ
- Drugs & Genetics: Why Do Some People Respond to Drugs Differently than Others?
- Foldit: Playing a Game While Solving Protein Structures
- From Genes to Genetic Diseases: What Kinds of Mutations Matter?
- Hitting the Target: The Importance of Making Sure a Drug's Aim Is True
- Protein Structure and Function
- Taking Short Cuts: How Direct Reprogramming Can Transform One Type of Cell Straight into Another
Do you have a specific question about a career as a Bioinformatics Scientist that isn't answered on this page? Post your question on the Science Buddies Ask an Expert Forum.
- O*Net Online. (2009). National Center for O*Net Development. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from http://online.onetcenter.org/
- Science Buddies. (2011). Interview: Caroline Thorn. Retrieved April 19, 2011, from www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/science-engineering-careers/interview_caroline-thorn.shtml
- Stitt, J. (n.d.). An interview with two bioinformaticians: bioinformatics from the computer science and biology perspectives. BioTeach. Retrieved April 19, 2011, from //bioteach.ubc.ca/Bioinformatics/interviews/
- Institute for Genome Sciences. (2011). Intro to bioinformatics. University of Maryland, School of Medicine. Retrieved April 19, 2011, from www.igs.umaryland.edu/research/bioinf/intro.php
- National Center for Biotechnology Information. (n.d.). A science primer: bioinformatics. Retrieved April 19, 2011, from www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/About/index.html
- Employment Development Department, State of California. (2010). Biotechnology careers: bioinformatics specialists. Retrieved May 2, 2011, from www.calmis.ca.gov/file/biotech/bio-bioinformatics-specialists.pdf
- iSeek Solutions. (2011). Bioinformatics. Retrieved June 20, 2011, from www.iseek.org/news/fw/fw6280FutureWork.html
We'd like to acknowledge the additional support of:
- Abbott Fund