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Careers in Bioinformatics

Bioinformatics is the combination of molecular biology with computer science. It's an exciting, relatively young and emerging information science. In this field computers help to integrate, manage, analyze, and visualize genetic and biological information. Scientists apply this technology to study biological processes in organisms and to determine how these processes go wrong in diseases. Originally confined to the early stages of drug discovery, Bioinformatics is lending its power to all aspects of clinical development, a trend that will only continue . They also discover and develop gene-based drugs to treat, cure and prevent human diseases.

The global Bioinformatics industry is expected to grow to $60 billion by 2005. India aims to achieve a global share of $3 billion by 2005.

Bioinformatics has proved to be a powerful tool for advanced research and development in the field of biotechnology. The growth of this biotechnology field is fueled in part by the Human Genome Project. Its objective is to identify all of the estimated 80,000 genes in human DNA, and determine the sequences of its 3 billion chemical bases, by the year 2005. In light of this project, major players such as universities, govt. institutions and pharmaceutical companies around the world have formed Bioinformatics groups, creating a boom in job opportunities. The popular areas of work in Bioinformatics include Sequence Assembly, Genomic Sequence Analysis, Functional Genomics, Genotyping and Pharmacogenomics.

All major biotech and companies like Biocon Ltd. IDPL, India Hindustan Antibiotics, National Botanical Institute, National Chemical Laboratories and Tata Engineering Research Institute are diversifying into Bioinformatics.

To work in the core of this science career one must have the right mix of skills in biology, biochemistry and computer science. Strongest demand today exists for individuals with degrees in the life sciences and computer sciences, and multiple years of programming and database development experience. The most preferred combinations include a Ph.D. in molecular biology, cell biology, or biochemistry and a B.Sc. in computer sciences. Applicants who have applied computational biology skills in a practical way have an edge over others.

Key computational skills are extremely essential in this field. These skills include database administration and programming skills (e.g. SQL Server, Oracle, Sybase, PERL, Java, C, C++, web scripting). UNIX tends to be the operating system used for many biological programs and SQL is used, to query databases. Expert knowledge of sequence-analysis programs like BLAST and FASTA is critical.

In India various institutes have started courses which cater to the needs of Bioinformatics aspirants. The major names among them are Bioinformatics Institute of India, Institute of Bioinformatics and Applied Biotechnology, Indian Institute of Information Technology, Bioinformatics Centre (JNU), CBT (Center for Biochemical Technology) and Amity Institute

This field is quite diverse and employment opportunities are varied, such as:

Biomedical Computer Scientist :The job would involve the design and development of programs and/or databases to be used in biological field. Strong programming skills are usually a requirement for this area.

Geneticist :These usually fall into three categories – Research Geneticist, Laboratory Geneticist and Genetic Counselors. The first two require Bioinformatics degrees at Graduate level. All require a strong understanding of genetics.

Computational Biologist: Computational Biologists develop computational tools and methods to solve complex theoretical and mathematical problems as they relate to interpreting genomic information. A Bioinformatics biologist would have to collaborate with other researchers and departments and some of his or her duties would include development of tools that would support research objectives and compilation and analysis of data. They also write and edit reports for journal publications.

Biostatistician: A Biostatistician’s responsibilities include reviewing potential Bioinformatics publications for statistical accuracy, and writing reports for in-house team members and collaborators, as well as information gathering on various studies. At a higher level they would ensure the consistent application of statistical analysis across different studies. Experience with a wide range of statistical methods, such as ANOVA, logistic regression analysis, survival analysis, linkage analysis, and multivariate analysis would be necessary. Proficiency in SPlus or SAS  (computer based statistical analysis tools) also might be necessary in some positions.

Biomedical Chemist: Biomedical Chemists analyze pharmaceutical materials for quality, purity and strength. They produce sample batches of a drug for trouble-shooting and help design the scaling-up process that takes drug manufacture up to factory proportions. Advanced positions require extensive record keeping and the supervision and integration of a lab team.

Clinical Data Manager: The Clinical Data Manager uses complex computer systems within Bioinformatics environments. They need to possess analytical skill to detect and resolve data problems in clinical research studies. A good understanding of the data generated in a clinical research study, methodologies for data storage, reviewing data, database design and testing, and the ability to extract information are the required skills.

Molecular Microbiologist: The Microbiologist characterizes pathogenic bacteria.  A Bachelor of Science in Microbiology with experience in general microbiology is required.

Software/Database Programmer: The Bioinformatics programmer is responsible for performing analysis on data from genomic and other biological databases. Ability to assess quality of analysis data, perform cross study analysis and be able to create and use/write SAS macros to automate all of the above functions is essential. Additionally, the person in this role will design and create analysis databases. A thorough knowledge of study design and protocol requirements is fundamental.

Medical Writer/Technical Writer: The duties of the medical writer comprises assisting  departments in the preparation and writing of documents required for regulatory submissions and writing study protocol and other documents needed for clinical studies. Other tasks include Drafting and coordinating the preparation of manuscripts for publication. A Master’s or PhD Degree is usually required for this position.

Research Associates and Research Scientists: An advanced degree needed for this position. Research Associates participate in and contribute to a scientific objective. They must also be conversant with laboratory equipment and software use as well as safety and protocols. A high level of interaction is required with physicians, pharmaceutical companies. Reviewing study documentation and ensuring compliance with clinical objectives and procedures is also a requirement for this role.

The pharmaceutical industry is one of the major employers of Bioinformaticians. Biotech companies, especially those involved personal care products, industrial organisms and agriculture have also seen Bioinformatics play an important role in their industry. 

For Comments: psjamwal@amity.edu

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