A technician examines a small glass slide

A bioinformatics scientist could...


Envision and build a database for researchers to share their biological data and observe how they interconnect. Screenshot of a color-coded table displayed on a website Help create personalized medicines by working with a team to evaluate thousands of individuals' genetic code and biochemistry. A pile of various pills
Create computer tools to track and analyze the patterns of viral outbreaks, like flu, around the country. A color-coded map of the United States based on reports of the flu Program an algorithm that will help piece together the structure and function of a protein. Digital rendering of spiraling purple strings
Find out more...

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
Median Salary
Bioinformatics Scientist
  $74,790
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
  $49,630
Min Wage
  $15,080
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Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) Little or No Change (-2% to 2%)
Interview
  • Meet Caroline Thorn, a scientific curator at Stanford University.
  • Meet Anne Condon, a computer scientist with an expertise in bioinformatics.
Related Occupations
Source: O*Net

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

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.

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 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.

Work Environment

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...

Science Fair Project Idea
In a survey conducted from 2007 to 2010, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that about 49% of people in the United States had taken at least one prescription drug during the past month, and about 22% of people had taken three or more prescription drugs. People are prescribed drugs all the time, but prescriptions can be dangerous because people can have different responses to drugs. These responses largely have to do with genetic mutations. Why are some genetic… Read more
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Remember going to the doctor and getting vaccine shots? It is no fun getting poked with a needle, but fortunately, a vaccine gives you protection against a serious illness for years to come. But what about the flu vaccine? How come there is a new one every year? This science fair project will show you why. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
The human kidney is the most commonly transplanted organ in the United States, numbering more than 17,000 transplants in 2010 alone! But kidney transplantation technology faces a lot of challenges, including a shortage of kidney donors and the need for recipients to take immunosuppressant drugs to keep their bodies from rejecting a transplanted kidney. In this science project, with the help of bioinformatics databases, you will explore how a kidney could be bioengineered using stem cells,… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Our genes are made up of hundreds to millions of building blocks, called DNA nucleotides, and if just a single nucleotide of DNA becomes mutated it might cause a devastating genetic disease. But sometimes a mutation actually does no damage. What kinds of mutations have to occur to cause a genetic disease? In this science project, you will explore online genetic databases to identify how a mutation in a gene can result in a dysfunctional protein, and how other mutations may have no effect… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Scientists recently found that some small drugs can stop infection by the deadly Ebola virus in its tracks. Lab researchers found that these drugs bind to a protein that the Ebola virus uses to enter our cells, and this is how infection is prevented. However, this also means that the bound protein no longer functions in our cells. How might these drugs accidentally disrupt important biological processes in our bodies? What other proteins might these drugs bind to? In this science project,… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Can you imagine Valentine's Day or Halloween without chocolate? Well, if you're a chocolate lover brace yourself for the bad news. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), "Worldwide demand for cacao now exceeds production." If there isn't enough cacao, the major raw ingredient for chocolate, then the chocolate supply will dwindle. Hang on! Before you start rushing to the store to buy all the chocolate you can get your hands on, a solution is already in the works. In… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Find out the real explanation for why your parents are so weird! Here is a science project that lets you explore the internet to find out why your "DNA blueprint" is so important to health and disease. In this science project you will use methods that bioinformatics and biotech scientists perform on a daily basis to decipher the human genome in their efforts to diagnose and treat genetic diseases. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Do you like solving mysteries? In this experiment, you can find out how a DNA fingerprint can help you figure out whodunit. The answer might just be in the "sequence" of events! Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Have you ever tried to pack a suitcase? If so, you know that no matter how hard you try, there is a limit to the amount you can cram in, which means if you have more stuff, you need a bigger suitcase! Do you think the same principle applies to DNA in a cell? Does an animal with a bigger genome need a larger cell nucleus to store its DNA? Try this science project and find out! Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
In the first decade of the 21st century, scientists found ways to make one adult cell type turn into a completely different cell type. This has huge implications for the medical field, including being able to take some cells that a person could spare, such as skin cells or blood cells, and turn them into another cell type that might be much more important for that person to have, such as cells to make a new kidney. How are scientists able to accomplish this amazing feat of "reprogramming" the… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Ever used a pair of molecular scissors? Restriction enzymes are molecular scissors that cut DNA into pieces. Find out which enzymes will cut, and where by making a restriction map. Then you can figure out what will happen if you change the sequence of the DNA. Will the same enzymes still cut the new DNA sequence? Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Have you ever known someone who had a bad reaction to a prescription drug? Although pharmaceutical companies test new drugs on a large number of people to make sure the drug works the way it is supposed to, often a small percentage of people respond differently to the drug. A person's genetics plays a large role in determining his or her response to a given drug. Our genes are made up of hundreds to millions of nucleotides of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), the genetic code. If just a… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Imagine that a biologist arrived at your big family reunion and had no idea who were sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, etc., but tried to sort it out by how all of you look. Just based on how you look, would s/he be able to guess whether the kid standing next to you is your sister or your cousin? The biologist might be able to make some good guesses this way, but by using samples of your family's DNA, s/he could construct your whole family tree. In this project, you'll use Web-based computer… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Unlocking the three-dimensional structure of a protein is crucial to help scientists understand how it functions in our bodies and how it can cause devastating diseases if it becomes disrupted or interacts in the wrong way. However, figuring out the structure of a protein in three-dimensional space can be very challenging. Proteins are the functional units of our cells, and every protein is made up of a long chain of amino acids. Amino acids come in different shapes and sizes, and they have… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Believe it or not, scientists were recently able to recover tissue from a 68-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex fossil! Not only were they able to purify non-mineralized tissue, but they also succeeded in obtaining partial sequence information for protein molecules in the T. rex tissue. In this genomics science fair project, you will use the T. rex's protein sequence to search sequence databases for the its closest living relatives. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
How a biological system functions is a consequence of the 3-D structures of biological macromolecules like proteins and protein complexes. Proteins can be categorized into different protein families based upon sequence, structure, and function. Typically, proteins in the same family have similar biochemical functions. You can investigate the structure of a protein by using protein databases (Entrez Protein, SwissProt, PDB) and 3-D computational models. You can compare the structures of… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
The first land animals took their tentative steps out of the ocean and onto solid ground around 365 million years ago. Over millions of years, these early ancestors developed into tetrapods, including amphibians, reptiles, dinosaurs, birds, and mammals. Then, around 50 million years ago, the reverse process occurred: the mammalian ancestor of today's whales returned to the ocean. In this genomics science fair project, you will use mitochondrial protein sequencing to trace the evolution of… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
The DNA in our cells contains our "blueprints," but it's the proteins in our cells that do most of the work. The Human Genome Project has allowed us to start reading the blueprints, but we still don't understand what most of the proteins do. This is a fairly advanced project that explores ways of identifying the function of unknown proteins. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Some sequences of RNA can catalyze biochemical reactions, much like protein enzymes. These catalytic RNA sequences are called ribozymes. The function of a ribozyme depends upon the primary sequence of the RNA which folds into a 3-D structure. How do different ribozyme sequences fold? You can search for ribozyme sequences using Entrez BLAST (NCBI, 2006). Then you can use a program like MFOLD (http://bioweb.pasteur.fr/seqanal/interfaces/mfold-simple.html) to submit your sequence for an… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Woolly mammoths shook the ground of ice-age tundras for millennia, living next to saber tooth tigers and prehistoric man. Although they have been extinct for thousands of years, scientists continue to learn more and more about this mighty animal. Some of the most exciting new research is being produced by looking at DNA extracted from the hair and bones of woolly mammoths entombed in ice. In this genomics science fair project, you will use bioinformatics tools to determine the woolly mammoth's… Read more

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Additional Information

Sources

Additional Support

We'd like to acknowledge the additional support of:

  • Abbott Fund
  • Bio-Rad
  • MedImmune
Free science fair projects.