Careers in Bioinformatics

Written by admin on November 25th, 2010

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Biology is no longer restricted to its qualitative quests. The huge amount of data being generated from the Genomics and proteomics research and other associated techniques has transformed biology into an increasingly quantitative science. There is a growing need for Bioinformatics skill to deal with this explosion of data. For many, especially those who are very little acquainted with the subject, Bioinformatics deals with research, development, or application of computational tools and approaches for expanding the use of biological, medical, behavioral or health data, including those to acquire, store, organize, archive, analyze, or visualize such data. It involves the creation and advancement of algorithms, computational and statistical techniques, and theory to solve formal and practical problems posed by or inspired from the management and analysis of biological data. To put it in simpler terms, Bioinformatics is where the domain of fundamental biology meets with those of mathematics, statistics and computational sciences to analyze the data generated by large number of individual experimental data.

The Bioinformatics domain is expanding fast and wide and this has already been stimulated to a significant extent by the completion of the human DNA sequence in the spring of 2003. The world bioinformatics market value is expected to be around billion dollars by the year 2007. Considering the current spending in the biotechnology sector towards informatics and relevant hardware, software and services and the growth of the biotech industry around the world, there would be a substantial amount of spending on bioinformatics. Though India has still a small space among the world bioinformatics leaders, the opportunities for growth are huge. With revenues reaching around million dollars in the year 2005, India is all set to touch an expected mark of billion dollars by the end of year 2010.

Since the domain of Bioinformatics is rooted in life sciences as well as computer and information sciences and technologies, an enormous need has emerged for people skilled in not only the fundamentals of biological science but with a sound grasp of computational science as well. People with formal training, or experience in bioinformatics are not finding it hard to search for employment. There is a great need for bioinformaticists in both the industrial and academic spheres. In fact, job opportunities in the field are so good that, at the moment, potential employers are finding it difficult to meet their requirement of skilled bioinformatics talent. This is an even greater concern for academic institutes as the flow of skilled manpower is always biased towards the industries, attributed to lucrative salaries and long term employment benefits.

The rise in opportunities in this field has led to an increase in the number of bioinformatics academic programs around the country. There are far more academic training programs available now than they were a few years ago, with more universities planning to roll out their programs. The Department of Biotechnology, under the Ministry of Science and Technology, India had established the Biotechnology Information System (BTIS) network way back in 1987 to create an infrastructure that enables it to harness, biotechnology through the application of Bioinformatics. BTIS is today recognized as one of the major scientific network in the world dedicated to provide the-state-of-the-art infrastructure, education, manpower and tools in bioinformatics. Under BTIS, there are Ten Distributed Information Centers. The Apex Center is located at the Department of Biotechnology. There are 46 Sub-Distributed Information Centers, located in various universities and research institutes of national importance. Long term courses at the level of post MSc Diploma in Bioinformatics are being offered at Pune University, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Calcutta University and Madurai Kamaraj University, in this inter-disciplinary area. More information about the Distributed Information Centers and Sub-Centers scattered across the various states of India could be obtained from the BTIS official website.

Major institutes/universities in India, offering a specialized course in this line are Institute of Bioinformatics and Applied Biotechnology (IBAB), Bangalore, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, Indian Institute of Technolog,Kharagpur, Center of Cellular and Molecular Biology (Hyderabad), National Institute of Immunology (New Delhi), Institute of Microbial Technology (Chandigarh). Madurai Kamaraj University in Madurai claims to have been the first in the country to initiate a bioinformatics programme and advanced diploma in bioinformatics at its School of Biotechnology. There is an Advanced (Graduate) Diploma in Bioinformatics offered by the Bioinformatics Center at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. An Advanced Diploma in Bioinformatics is being offered at the Bioinformatics Center at The University of Pune. Bioinformatics Institute of India is conducting a one year correspondence course on Industry Program in Bioinformatics, Biomedical Informatics, Clinical Trial and Clinical Research, Pharma Regulatory Affairs, Biotechnology. BII is also offering various online programs through their web site.

When it comes to tapping a career in bioinformatics, what one may essentially require is: fundamental knowledge of biology along with some exposure to computational techniques and concepts. However, there is good scope for even those with Computer Science, Physical Chemistry and Physics background. In fact according to experts, in certain niches of the bioinformatics workshop like developing and applying numerical algorithms and data mining, computer programmers, Physical Chemists and Physicists tend to be more skilled as compared to their biological counterparts. The growing field of bioinformatics has made good room for people with IT background with keen interest in biology, especially molecular biology. The skills that are usually sought from an aspirant with an IT background are – (a) Simple and basic understanding of molecular entities like DNA, RNA, Proteins and molecular processes such as Transcription and Translation, which is for most part taken care by the training provided by the company. (b) Proficiency in using and administering databases like Oracle, SQL Server, MySQL, Sybase. (c) Programming skills in JAVA, C, C++, PERL, web scripting etc. (c) Good understanding (in certain cases) of operating system platforms like UNIX and LINUX. (d) Informatics related problem solving skills.

When it comes to tapping a career in bioinformatics, what one may essentially require is a strong fundamental knowledge of biology along with some exposure to computational techniques and concepts. However, there are opportunities even for graduates in Statistics, Physical Chemistry and Physics. According to experts, in certain niches of the bioinformatics such as developing and applying numerical algorithms and data mining, Physical Chemists and Physicists tend to be more skilled when compared to their biological counterparts. There are ample opportunities for those with an IT background with strong interest or knowledge in the biological sciences, especially molecular biology. People with just a biological sciences or computer sciences degree along with a Master’s degree in bioinformatics or computational biology is one best profile to get going with the bioinformatics careers. People with a master’s degree are usually looked on favorably by recruiters as it provides the basic foundation along with some practical experience which is usually lacking at a graduate level. A bit of working experience in IT may add a feather to your cap. However an undergraduate degree in bioinformatics is also an option that can be considered.

The major employer of bioinformatics talent is currently the drug designing industry and the bioinformatics software and solution based companies. Others including biotechnology companies, especially those involved in personal care products, industrial organisms and agriculture have also shown great promise. Some prominent areas within bioinformatics where opportunities are arising are Proteomics, Pharmacogenomics, Functional Genomics, Sequence Mapping and Analysis, Data Mining and Management etc. While hunting for jobs related to bioinformatics, these days, some usual titles to consider would be:

For Biologists: Bioinformatician, Geneticist, Computational Biologist, Biostatistician etc.
For an IT professionals: Applications Programmer, Programmer Analyst, Object Modeler, Quality Assurance Engineer, Software development Engineer, Bioinformatics programmer / Analyst / Developer etc.

Apticraft Systems (P) Ltd, a software company based company in Indore employs biologists and software experts to develop software for use in life science research. Founded in 2001, Apticraft Systems is the vision of a few computer savvy technocrats, who have been actively involved in this field for the last 10 yrs. At Apticraft Systems, the goal is to create top quality software using the best software development practices. Apticraft has successfully offered its software development expertise and value added services to contractual clients who cater to renowned academic research institutions, government agencies, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, around the world.


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