Bioinformatics has been turning out to be a critical domain within life sciences, especially within biotechnology & biomedical sciences. Bioinformatics is not only essential for management of data in modern biology and medicine. But, it’s also becoming a key component in basic & translational research, development of new diagnostic & therapeutic tools, clinical practice, and personalized medicine. In this article, we will look at the career scopes of bioinformatics and how to make a career in bioinformatics.
Bioinformatics can be defined as the application of information technology to study living things (or biological processes) at the molecular level (gene or protein level). It’s an interdisciplinary field that leverages computation methods (mathematical modelling, statistics, programming, simulation studies, analytical methods etc.) to analyse large sets of biological data. The objective of bioinformatics is to discover (or identify) the biological process or make new predictions (could be disease mechanism, yield of new crops or drug therapeutics).
Bioinformatics has got several applications in biomedical sciences – genomics, proteomics, cheminformatics, drug discovery, pharmacovigilance, clinical studies. Additionally, bioinformatics also finds key implications in the other branches of life sciences such as agricultural science, forensic science, veterinary science, bioenergy, and environmental biotechnology. Know more about the scopes and applications of bioinformatics in medicine and biotechnology.
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At present, the traditional drug discovery & development process is not yielding in effective drugs. Even the best-in-the-market drugs are failing to provide efficacy in a large population of patients. So the probability of success is very lower compared to the expenditure made on research, approval, and marketing activities. Consequently, the healthcare associated expenses are going up. Bioinformatics has got tremendous potential to solve the problems in the drug discovery process and to aid the delivery of personalized medicine.
Ever since the completion of the Human Genome Project, the advances in genomics and other technologies, biologists today are overburdened with data that is being generated at a lightning speed. These issues were once faced only by high-energy physicists and astronomers.
Today, it’s impossible to draw any conclusion by conducting a study in 10, 100 or even 1,000 subjects. In order to come up with a significant outcome, data from 500,000 or millions of people is becoming the norm. Here comes translational science & personalized medicine.
Today, big data is everywhere, and its influence and practical omnipresence across multiple industries will just continue to grow. The healthcare & medical field is no exception. The role of big data in bioinformatics is to provide repositories of data, better computing facilities, and data manipulation tools for data analysis. According to experts,Biology is going to be the Next Big Thing in Data Science. One of the major factors that are driving this trend is none other than Bioinformatics.
Today, bioinformatics is not a just tool for aiding biotechnology and life sciences research. The subject has evolved from a service (like histology or proteomics) to its own research arena. Bioinformatics professionals will now determine what questions need to be asked in the first place rather than just answer the data inquiries.
Yes, bioinformatics is itself a great area of research at present. Hence, the life sciences & biotech domain is witnessing an explosion of bioinformatics careers, largely fuelled by the big data boom.The demand for talented, skilled & experienced professionals at the crossroads of biology, statistics, and computer science is very high. The trend will be there for the next 5 – 7 years.
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Software & Programming: C, C++, Java, R, MATLAB, Perl, Bash, Python, Galaxy (Linux and nix sysadmin skills are kind of mandatory)
Statistics: R and other Bio-Statistical software
Bioinformatics Tools: Blast, BLAT, Clustalw, Bioedit, T-coffee sequence analysis algorithms and clustering tools
Bioinformatics Resources and Database Skills: UCSC genome browser, NCBI,Entrez, SRS Database, UniProt, SwissProt, MySQL
Sub-domain software (toolkits): Scaffold, ProtMAX (Proteomics), ChemmineR, Enalos, Indigo, PerlMol, OEChem (Cheminformatics), Oracle Argus, ARISg, AutoDock, SwissDock (Molecular Docking & Drug Discovery) etc.
Data Mining (being able to extract data from multiple resources is invaluable)
Data Visualization (you need to extract complex data and interpret it into models to communicate with biologists and other team members)
Understanding of Molecular Biology & Genetics
Soft Skills: Communication, Teamwork, Flexibility, Patience
Basically, there are two paths for making a career in bioinformatics. Either you take the Computer Science & Engineering or Biosciences at the Undergrad level.
Computer scientists must become fluent in the life science terminology of genetics, genomics and cellular biology. Biologists must pick up skills in data analysis, including statistics, logic and programming.
At the 10+2 level, the ideal combination would be Physics, Chemistry, Math & Biology or Physics, Chemistry, Biology & Computer Science.
At the undergraduate level, you could pursue Biology, Biotechnology, Biomedical Science, Genetics, Computer Science, Statistics, or Chemical Engineering.
At the Masters level, you would need a specialization in Bioinformatics, Computational Biology, Epidemiology, Bio-Statistics, or Applied Statistics.
It doesn’t matter that much which institute you attend at the Post-Graduate level. The key is to learn and acquire the hot skills (mentioned earlier). Of course, you can’t master all the skills in 2 years. But, even if you half of those skills (listed above), you can demand good very attractive salaries.
As usual for any life or biosciences career, a PhD is required in order to make it to the top in academia or industry. Similarly, a Ph.D. in bioinformatics, computation biology, genetics or genomics is generally required to engage in advanced research. The majority of the above universities (especially the foreign universities) also provide top-notch education & training for doctoral studies. Here are few more universities that are specifically known for doctoral studies & research; the majority of the following universities don’t offer Bioinformatics programs at the Masters level.
Where to look for jobs? You can find bioinformatics jobs in core bioinformatics (and IT) companies, multinational pharma-biotech companies, and research institutes.
Institute of Bioinformatics, Bangalore
Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore
National Institute of Animal Biotechnology, Hyderabad
Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi
School of Biological Sciences, Madurai
National Institute of Immunology, JNU, New Delhi
Institute of Microbial Technology, Chandigarh
National Brain Research Centre, Gurgaon
JNU Bioinformatics Center, New Delhi
In the academia, the pay structure is as per the norms. The monthly average salaries for JRFs and SRFs are INR 18,000 and 30,000 respectively. Usually, more positions are available for the Master’s degree (M.Sc. or M.Tech.) holders with NET/GATE/BET/BINC qualification.
The average starting salaries for PhD degree holders is 36K – 40K per month. RAs can earn up to INR 70,000 per month. Please be advised, all the academic positions (JRF, SRF, RAs) come with 20 – 25% HRA. So, that’s not a very bad amount at all.
In the industry, the salary really depends on your skill set and experience. However, in India, the average salary in the bioinformatics space could be quite higher than the molecular biology (wet lab work) space. The average salaries for Master degree holders (sorry, but don’t expect a core bioinformatics job with a Bachelor degree) would be around INR 40K – 60K per month.With 3 – 5 years of experience, you can earn INR 10 – 15Lacs per annum.
To provide more insights on careers and jobs in bioinformatics, I reached out to Aprajita Mathur, Senior Bioinformatics Professional, currently working with Guardant Health, USA.
Could you please briefly explain to our readers about your work (an overview of your work at Illumina and Guardant Health).
I currently lead the Bioinformatics Software Quality Team at Guardant Health. My team and I work closely with Bioinformatics and Software developers to build and test Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) analysis software, which is used for reporting results of our comprehensive liquid biopsy test. I am personally very excited about this domain and technology, if you don’t know what liquid biopsy is Google it up. Before Guardant, I was at Illumina for over 7+ years. My work there was also related to software testing and I had the pleasure of working on NGS data analysis application’s which are used in the fields of agriculture, transplant genomics, forensics and oncology to name a few.
What made you choose Bioinformatics after B.E in Biotechnology?
I knew I was going to pursue the field of Bioinformatics when I was in my 3rd year of engineering. During my first 2 years, I explored the traditional “wet-lab” route, which I was very excited about but soon realized It was not what I wanted to do. While working in the labs I was exposed to a drug designing software which got me intrigued. This led me to pursue bioinformatics work during my engineering and then pursue my M.S. in the space. In summary it was the love of Biology and Computer Science that made me certain that this was my calling.
According to you, what’s the best path to make a career in bioinformatics?
The field of Bioinformatics is very broad and you can land in this domain through multiple paths. I can’t think of a “Best” way to be here. If you’re passionate about the field, I would recommend identifying the field of application (oncology, pharmacogenomics, data analysis, genetics etc.) you want to work on and then go from there.
Is there any advantage for the folks with Computer Science or Bio-science (Biotech or Biomedical) background over one another?
This is a great question and the answer is NO. You may have both and it still may-not be enough, let me explain! It is a misconception that these are the only 2 fields you need to know. In core Bioinformatics development you will need to learn and apply knowledge of other sciences and fields (statistics and bio-chemistry to name a few). If you end up working on a project which requires experience in molecular biology then someone with a CS background will need to learn that and vice versa for a Biology major.
To add to that, this is exactly the reason i love this domain so much. I learn something new every day and a lot of times un-learn also.
What are the key skills one need to be successful in the field of bioinformatics?
Speaking broadly: Molecular Biology, Genetics, Algorithms and Data Structures, Programming Skills and Statistics
Soft Skills: Communication, Willingness to learn, grow and adapt
Any advice for the students who are looking at to study MS/PhD in Bioinformatics in the US?
Before you decide to study in this field, I would highly recommend looking at area’s and applications of Bioinformatics which interest you. Read scientific journals in these area’s to have a better understanding of what the field entails so you can make informed decisions about your future. This will also help you choose your curriculum once you pursue your higher education.
Where do you see the Bioinformatics domain in the coming 5 – 7 years?
Bioinformatics is still evolving and will continue to evolve for many years given the various sectors and applications it has. It is already growing many folds and is an emerging field across the globe. As an example: NGS is now being used in the medical informatics domain and just in this one space the possibilities are endless.
Header pic credit: Michigan Tech