Bioinformatics is a field that deals with the computational management of all kinds of biological information. Sometimes it is referred to as 'in-silico-biology', which indicates the use of computers. So here’s a look at what this phenomenon is all about.
Bio informatics: wave of the future
The quantity and the diversity of biological information is so enormous that there is a need for sophisticated techniques to processing the data. First of all, the data needs to be stored effectively. The second requirement is the need for radical new methods for analysing the huge database. Thirdly, powerful hardware is required to carry out the task of analysing these databases. Bioinformatics uses computer software techniques for database creation, data management, data warehousing, data mining and global communications network. Without bioinformatics, new research in most fields of medicine and biology would come to a standstill.
The field of bioinformatics absorbs inquisitive people with computer competency, good problem-solving skills, proficiency in English, a logical, practical and methodological approach to work, logical reasoning, a concern for accuracy and the ability to work in a team. "A genuine desire for sustained research work, determination, and flexibility to withstand temporary setbacks and real scientific temper are also essential for achieving success in this field," opines Arindam Dasgupta who has been a technical officer at the bioinformatics centre of a reputed institute in Kolkata.
Education and training
Bioinformatics is primarily a research-oriented discipline.The four year Bioinformatics course is open to students, who have completed their class 12 with physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics. Applicants need to have a genuine interest in biology. Proficiency in IT, biology and mathematics is necessary to work in this field.
If one is already a biologist, transition is possible. In addition to the extensive knowledge of the run-of-the mill molecular biology packages, you will need to learn web and programming skills and be familiar with a variety of operating systems. One area of bioinformatics that is set to expand is the determination of relationships between structures and sequence. If you wish to enter this field, you will need to learn all you can about structural biology and modelling, mathematical optimisation, computer graphics theory and linear algebra.
The package offerd to freshers is around Rs 7,000. With around two to five years of experience this can go up to Rs 14,000.
Bioinformatics has a bright future in India. "It will not be advisable for everyone to jump into this field as that would create excess supply of professionals. Choose this field if you really love the subject and not only because your peers are opting for it," opines Nilakshi, a research associate with a pharma company.
"The number of people with a bioinformatics background has increased rapidly, but the quality of professionals hasn't," avers Santosh Balakrishnan, an executive with a bioinformatics company in Pune. It is important for students to appreciate the fact that there is no such thing as a typical career path in this field. Job opportunities are usually in areas like data mining, gene banks, protein data banks, genomics, proteomics, developing data diagnostic kits, customising software etc. The real challenge in this field is the intelligent analysis of wealth involved in the deluge of sequence data. The information has to be interpreted for proper appreciation terms of protein structure, function ad evolution.