If you have the aptitude for biology, statistics, and computer science, then this major may appeal to you. Those who do not excel in these subjects should not read further. The study of bioinformatics employs coursework loaded with the natural sciences, mathematics, and computer science. In preparation for a degree in the field, it is advisable to take as many biology and math classes throughout high school.
What is Bioinformatics?
The Bio in the word refers to biology. Informatics relates to information science and information technology. Combine the two, and you have information within the biological data. The biology aspect looks at molecular biology-the analysis of the composition and structure of biomolecules.
Wikipedia defines bioinformatics as “an interdisciplinary field that develops methods and software tools for understanding biological data.” In other words, it uses computers to process biological information.
As you dig deeper into this discipline, you will come across words such as- data mining, DNA, RNA, biological sequences, genomes, and gene expression patterns. Data mining, for example, can result in scientific discoveries that lead to new clinical applications in the medical field.
The standard is at the undergraduate level is a Bachelor of Science in Bioinformatics. Here are some of the courses you should expect.
Statistics: Most programs include several courses in this subject as it is at the core of bioinformatics. You will study probability, statistical inference, descriptive statistics, and correlation.
Mathematics: This may involve the application of trigonometry and geometry. Other topics are exponential, polynomial, rational, logarithmic, and trigonometric functions. Additionally, you may have classes in calculus, applied regression, and analytical geometry.
In most programs, your coursework in statistics and mathematics begins in year one, semester one. The same applies to the natural sciences, which are predominately biology and chemistry. The emphasis favors biology.
Biology: You might begin with the study of the structure and function of plant and animal organisms, their evolution, genetics, and reproductive methods. Other topics are cell structure, cellular metabolism, DNA replication, and cell division. The evolutionary element examines the role of natural selection, taxonomy (classification of organisms), and phylogeny (evolutionary history of organisms).
As you progress to the second and third year, the study material in biology evolves to the molecular level. You will become knowledgeable in the molecular structure and chemical reactions of nucleic acids, carbohydrates, and lipids. The courses may include sequencing technologies, genome assembly, and gene expression analysis.
Chemistry: This course is not prevalent in all bachelors’ programs. If included in the curriculum, you may have classes in general, analytical, and organic chemistry, as well as a chemistry laboratory. The lab work may entail the preparation of organic compounds using synthetic techniques.
Physics: Again, depending on the school, there may be a course or two in physics. You study the fundamentals of mechanics, wave motion, thermodynamics, kinetic energy, atomic and nuclear physics, and quantum physics.
Computer Science: This subject is a crucial component of computer technology used in bioinformatics. Your introduction may have courses in object-oriented programming techniques, sorting data, computational processes, and software documentation. Object-oriented programming teaches polymorphism (use of a single entity to represent multiple types), binary trees, interfaces, and linked lists.
Mathematical techniques for computer graphics, curve projections, graph languages, and modeling, as well as data structure, could be part of the computer science coursework.
Software engineering may also be incorporated into the computer science classes. You gain experience in development methods, designing documents, and developing a prototype.
Due to the relationship of computer science with bioinformatics, some schools offer a Bachelor of Science in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology. The latter, by definition, involves many of the same sciences as bioinformatics. The shared subjects are biology, chemistry, biophysics, genetics, mathematics, statistics, and computer science.
A mirror image of the above degree is a B.S. in Bioinformatics with a concentration in Computational Sciences. You could opt for a degree in computational science. However, most of these have only a few, if any, courses in biology, chemistry, and physics. These programs concentrate on calculus, statistics, and scientific computing.
Another choice is a B.S. in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology. This curriculum has an array of biological sciences, namely cell biology, genetics, and physiology. You will also study physics, chemistry, algebra, calculus, mathematics, and computer science — almost the same subjects in the typical B.S. in bioinformatics.
The application of bioinformatics has expanded into big pharmaceutical companies, biotechnology, healthcare, and biomedical research. In big pharma, bioinformaticists may work with a team from the departments of research and development (R&D) and information technology. In R&D, for example, bioinformaticists research new and existing drugs to determine the effectiveness of medicines and create safe protocols.
To earn employment at Johnson&Johnson or AstraZeneca or other of the prestigious companies, you should consider advancing to a master’s degree. Despite the growth of jobs in this field, your competition will come from those with graduate and doctoral degrees.