What is Bioinformatics?

Bioinformatics uses the last century of research in biology and takes cues from the world’s organisms to build a healthier and cleaner future, with a staggering number of applications in the modern tech landscape.

In the past few decades, the sheer volume of data has increased exponentially, in large part due to the growing repositories of rich biodata from the fields of genomics and molecular biology.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2019) reports an uptick in the percentage of bioinformatics and other positions in our economy, such as in the occupations of computer and information research scientists, biomedical scientists, and biomedical engineers. To put it simply, bioinformatics is a field that combines analytics and data representation to make sense of the vast amounts of data generated each and every day.

Discover what happens in the field of bioinformatics, including information about related disciplines in biotechnology, credentialing, occupational duties, and more.

Definition of Bioinformatics

The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) recently established a newer, more comprehensive definition of bioinformatics that points to the interdisciplinary nature of the field. Bioinformatics is the process by which biological problems posed by the assessment or study of biodata are interpreted and analyzed. Bioinformatics professionals develop algorithms, programs, code, and analytic models to record and store data related to biology, the health sciences, and healthcare. This includes the study of things like the human genome, biochemical proteins, pharmacological ingredients, metabolic pathway readings, and much more.

The official NCBI definition of bioinformatics is “conceptualizing biology in terms of macromolecules (in the sense of physical-chemistry) and then applying ‘informatics’ techniques (derived from disciplines such as applied math, computer science, and statistics) to understand and organize the information associated with these molecules, on a large-scale.”

Other organizations operate major bioinformatics publications, including Oxford’s Bioinformatics Journal and the Journal of Bioinformatics and Computational Biology.

As the preponderance and availability of data grows, the need to interpret this data will keep pace. Mapping cancer genomes, for example, involves serious data input from thoroughly-analyzed genetic fragments. As with every other modern medical field, data analytics plays a major role in bioinformatics, even if you have no plans of studying engineering or computer science. Some basic understanding of data set management and presentation is highly useful, as well.

Bioinformatics vs Computational Biology

When discussing the field of bioinformatics or reading about its developments, the phrase computational biology will pop up. Why is that? Well, the two fields are quite closely-related. While bioinformatics refers to the study of large sets of biodata, biological statistics, and results from scientific studies, computational biology, by contrast, is concerned with solutions to issues that have been raised by studies in bioinformatics.

Both disciplines are generally considered facets of the rapidly-expanding fields of data science and biotechnology. Examples of how computational biology is utilized by scientists include how proteins interact with each other and the simulation of protein folding, motion, and interaction.

As both fields rely on the availability and accuracy of datasets, they usually help one another reach their respective project goals. While computational biology emphasizes the development of theoretical methods, computational simulations, and mathematical modeling, bioinformatics emphasizes informatics and statistics.

Okay, so what’s biotechnology, then? Biotechnology can be considered the outcome of bioenterprise’s pursuit of more efficient biological processes while at the same time attempting to address a market need.

Bioinformatics and computational biology are two fields that have arisen from the growth of the business of biodata. BIO, the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, predicts that advancements in biotechnological, bioinformatical, and computationally biological research and implementation will significantly assist the world as it faces the 21st century’s impending resource challenges. The fields are generally integrated in laboratories, research centers, or colleges—almost always with a major experimental component.

Applications of Bioinformatics

Bioinformatics is a rich specialization in which the myriad uses of data are explored, from pharmacology to antibiotics, from green technologies to climate change studies.

Skills in data analytics, programming, general scientific know-how, and databasing are critical. These, and many more, are included in a running list of bioinformatics applications in the fields of microbial genome applications in molecular medicine, personalized medicine, antibiotic resistance, preventative medicine, drug development, gene therapy, evolutionary studies, biotechnology, waste cleanup, crop improvement, insect resistance, alternative energy sources, artificial intelligence, zoology, animal behavioral studies, climate change studies, forensic analysis, machine learning, improvement of nutritional quality, development of drought resistant varieties of crops, and veterinary science.

Most careers available in bioinformatics can be found in computer information science, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, medical technology, computational biology, proteomics, and medical informatics. Bioinformatics professionals often develop algorithms; build databases; and present data, studies, and research to other bioinformatics professionals. The databases they build are typically used for processing and analyzing things like genomic information, genetic trends, generalized and varied types of biodata, research results, and statistics.

Some of the common fields in which bioinformatics professionals can be found include evolutionary biology, genome mapping, protein modeling, health administration, and more.

Evolutionary bioinformatics scientists use software to track genetic data and achieve new insights into the genome of disease and genetic risk factors. Genome maps are built by inputting biodata into software, which then builds complex models of genetic samples. This helps bioinformatics scientists spend far less time mapping genes and more time studying and locating specific proteins. This is called protein modeling, and is used to test a specialist’s theories on how proteins interact to affect genetic change, adaptation, and development.

These are just a few examples of jobs undertaken by bioinformatics professionals. The next section contains further options, fields, and positions in bioinformatics.

Bioinformatics Subfields and Related Disciplines

The field of bioinformatics encompasses a wide array of biotechnological sub-disciplines that are underpinned by both a scientific ethic grounded in the biological sciences and a deep understanding of computer science and information technology. Bioinformatics continues to grow in scope and utility. Examples of a few of the many fields informed by the work of bioinformatics include:

  • Computational biology – the application of data-based solutions to problems in bioinformatics
  • Genetics – the study of heredity and the variation of inherited characteristics
  • Genomics – the branch of molecular biology concerned with the structure, function, evolution, and mapping of genomes
  • Proteomics – the study of proteomes and their functions
  • Metagenomics – the study of genetic matter from environmental sources and samples
  • Transcriptomics – the study of the complete RNA transcriptome
  • Phylogenetics – the study of the relationships in groups of animals and humans
  • Metabolomics – the study of the biochemistry of metabolism and metabolites
  • Systems biology – mathematical modeling and analysis of large sets of biodata
  • Structural analysis – an assessment that determines the effects of physical loads on physical structures
  • Molecular modeling – the modeling of molecular structures by way of computational chemistry
  • Pathway analysis – a software assessment that identifies related proteins in metabolic pathways

Bioinformatics Degree Programs

Bioinformatics is almost always chosen as a specialization at the graduate level. Most students come from undergraduate courses of study in fields like biology, computer science, chemistry, biochemistry, or bioengineering. But, in recent years, more and more undergraduate programs in bioinformatics have begun to emerge. Some of them are covered below.

Bachelor’s programs featuring bioinformatics are, in most cases, specialized programs in the sciences with concentrations in bioinformatics, data analytics, programming, and more.

Master’s degree programs in bioinformatics can prepare graduates for careers in consultation, university teaching, or applied research jobs. Going on to pursue a PhD in this field will put candidates in the top percentile of earners and will give them the tools needed to ascend to the highest levels of the field.

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Featured Bioinformatics & Biotechnology Programs
Arizona State University Biochemistry (Medicinal Chemistry), BSVisit Site
Arizona State University Biological Sciences (Biomedical Sciences), BSVisit Site
Arizona State University Biomedical Diagnostics (MS)Visit Site
Johns Hopkins University - Advanced Academic Programs Biotech Education Post-Bachelor's Certificate
Johns Hopkins University - Advanced Academic Programs Master of Biotechnology Enterprise & Entrepreneurship
Johns Hopkins University - Advanced Academic Programs MS Bioinformatics
The George Washington University School of Medicine & Health Sciences BSHS in Biomedical Informatics
The George Washington University School of Medicine & Health Sciences MSHS in Biomedical Informatics
The George Washington University School of Medicine & Health Sciences MSHS in Immunohematology and Biotechnology
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Here are two examples of graduate degree programs related to bioinformatics:

Columbia University

Columbia University offers an online master of science (MS) in computational biology that focuses on subjects such as data science, bioinformatics programming, bioinformatics computational methods, mathematical biology, and bioengineering. A graduate degree in computational biology is a sensible next step after undergraduate study in bioinformatics or the biosciences.

Northeastern University

Northeastern University offers an online master’s in bioinformatics degree that focuses on subjects such as bioinformatics programming, bioinformatics computational methods, and ethics in biomedical research. The program also offers a graduate certificate in data science.

This program can provide prospective bioinformatics or computational biology professionals the skills, knowledge, and practical understanding that’s essential to success in the field. Northeastern University’s College of Science is a leading online institution in the field of biodata studies and boasts a faculty of expert bioinformatics professionals.

Bioinformatics Resources & Academic Journals

  • Carlton College’s Bioinformatics Resources & Tools Database
  • National Center for Toxicological Research: Tools for Bioinformatics Research
  • Wikipedia List of Open-Source Bioinformatics Software
  • Pitt’s Health Sciences Library: Online Bioinformatics Resources Collection
  • PLOS Computational Biology Software
  • Nature Computational Biology Tools
  • Institute for Systems Biology List of Open-Source Computational Biology Software
  • BioData Mining
  • Bioinformatics
  • Briefings in Bioinformatics
  • Computational and Structural Biotechnology Journal
  • Current Bioinformatics
  • Evolutionary Bioinformatics
  • Journal of Bioinformatics and Computational Biology
Kenneth Parker

Kenneth Parker

Writer

Kenneth is a feature writer, poet, and musician living in the Pacific Northwest. His writing on remote work, education, and technology has been published by BustedCubicle.com, MedicalTechnologySchools.com, and other websites. His poetry, short fiction, and album reviews have appeared in Scifaikuest, Nanoism, and No Clean Singing. His background includes time spent as an associate editor, proofreader, private grammar instructor, freelance content editor, medical claims agent, and SEO consultant. He is a graduate of the University of Oregon, where he studied literature and worked as a composition tutor.

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