Bioinformatics Career Path – Everything You Need To Know

Bioinformatics is an absolutely new and high-tech interdisciplinary field comprising biology, mathematics, computer science, statistics, and programming. This subject is used to understand and interpret biological data and manage it for later use.

Bioinformatics has found its place in every biological field, specifically it plays an important role in biomedical research and drug designing. The bioinformatics career path is easy to pursue. Any student with an inclination towards both IT and biology, can follow it.

It has a promising future for enthusiastic learners and research oriented bioinformaticians. In this blog, we try to counter all the doubts of young students interested in taking the bioinformatics career path.

What is Bioinformatics in Simple Words?

Bioinformatics term was coined by Paulien Hogeweg and Ben Hesper that defines it as an interdisciplinary science field, the amalgamation of biology and core computer sciences. It mostly deals with the collection, maintenance, interpretation, and analysis of biological data.

It is the connecting link between medical data and associated diseases with it. It provides software to perform analysis and interpret for possible treatment and diagnosis. It has a role in data visualization, management, interpretation, and analysis.

In very simple words, bioinformatics is about solving biological problems using computer science applications. The range of complexity of bio-related problems can vary and the tools applied also vary accordingly.

Importance of Bioinformatics

Bioinformatics has become a necessary subject in the core medical sciences research due to a number of reasons. The COVID-19 pandemic is a live example where bioinformatics was extensively used to analyze the genomic sequence of SARS-CoV-2. It was used to predict effective drugs against the virus, vaccines development, and its study on population impact.

It is important to learn bioinformatics nowadays because of the several reasons mentioned here.

  • The bioinformatics techniques such as signal processing and image processing help in the extraction of useful information from a large amount of raw data
  • Helps in the analysis of protein and gene expression regulation
  • Assist in comparison of genetic and genomic data
  • Helps in understanding the evolutionary mechanisms in molecular biology
  • Analysis of biological pathways and networks in systems biology
  • Helpful in simulation and modeling of protein structures and studying the interactions
  • It helps in sequencing and annotation of genomes and the mutations observed in them
  • It is helpful in text mining of available biological literature and further development of ontologies For query of biological data
  • The data is constantly increasing and management of data through bioinformatics is needed
  • Modern problems need modern solutions and bioinformatics is the need of the hour

Is Bioinformatics Hard to Pursue?

Bioinformatics is not a very hard subject to pursue. Students can easily graduate from this subject. Graduates and postgraduates can further seek higher education as research scholars. Since bioinformatics includes both biology and information science, some students can find either part easy or tough.

The biological part can be easy to understand and apply. Mostly this part is theoretical. It requires reading and understanding of the topics such as diseases, their factors, and their pathways. However, the computational part is tricky and some students find it tough.

Programming is slightly difficult since it requires a different perspective. It is intellectually demanding to design applications for biological problems. The computer science part also deals with analyzing biological data using statistics tools in programming languages.

Both of these segments become quite easy after practice. So, in simple words, it is not a difficult subject to pursue. In fact, it is interesting to write codes and analyze biological data.

What Do You Study in Bioinformatics?

So overall bioinformatics curriculum can be split into two distinct categories. The first category can be the biological domain and the second category can be the information technology domain.

  • The biological domain includes study of biochemistry-DNA, RNA, protein, genes, cell biology- cell structure, organelles, cell division, cell cycle, developmental biology- cellular regeneration, development, growth, division, genetics- segregation, alleles, chromosomes, molecular biology- Calvin cycle, glycolysis, Krebs cycle, physiology- respiratory system, cardiovascular system, musculo-skeletal system, nervous system, diseases and their pathways, and other similar topics.
  • The IT domain includes learning of programming languages such as- Java, Python, BioPython, C++, R programming, Machine Learning (ML)- supervised and unsupervised learning, Convoluted Neural Networks, Artificial Neural Networks, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Deep Learning (DL), and other related topics.
  • Additional topics of the study include chemoinformatics, chemogenomics, proteomics, metabolomics, structural biology, drug design, pharmacokinetics, and similar topics.

The curriculum for practical classes are different from theory. Several hands-on training is provided on using the web-based bioinformatics tools. Application of R packages, C++, Python to assess data of different diseases is learned in such sessions.

Also, the students learn to work on different computer environments- Linux, Unix, Windows interface.

What Programming Languages are used in Bioinformatics?

It is preferable to learn as many programming languages as possible to be a bioinformatician of a top category but, the most commonly learned and used programming languages are mentioned here.

  • Python: simple to use due to code readability and extensibility
  • Biopython: specifically designed for writing biological software programs
  • Java: used for application development and teaching computer science
  • JavaScript: effectively used in web development
  • C: for web-based application development
  • C++: Object-oriented programming
  • PHP: scripting language used to run web-based applications
  • SQL: for storing data and web-based application used in the relational database
  • R: statistical analysis of biological data using bioinformatics packages
  • HTML: website development language, easy to use
  • MATLAB: machine learning interface for different learning algorithms for biological data

Only by regular coding practice, a bioinformatician can become a software developer or programmer. Most of the job opportunities arise from the IT sectors. National and international firms are keen on increasing their IT achievements and hire bioinformaticians.

What are the Tools commonly used in Bioinformatics?

There are hundreds of freely available tools that are open for public access of researchers globally. However, the most commonly used tools in bioinformatics are mentioned here.

  • NCBI tools such as BLAST: similar sequence search tool based on scoring system
  • Clustal Omega/Clustal W: for multiple sequence alignment and representation
  • Bioconductor: for different types of genomics and sequence data analysis
  • IGV genome sequencing tool: for sequencing the genome of species
  • EMBOSS bioinformatics tool: a plethora of tools for different bioinformatics analysis
  • MEGA: for phylogenetic analysis and tree construction
  • AutoDock Vina: used for molecular docking studies
  • STRING/STITCH: gene network development and interaction tool
  • GALAXY: used for NGS data analysis and identification of differentially expressed genes
  • GROMACS: used for docking studies between ligands and target molecule
  • Pymol: used for3-D protein structure visualization and manipulations
  • PHYLIP: phylogenetic tree construction tool
  • VMD: used for molecular dynamics studies
  • Geneious: gene and genome based studies tool
  • Sequencher: multipurpose tool for sequence based analysis
  • RasMol: protein structure visualization

Some of these tools are commercial and only available for use after subscription. They also require official/academic authorization. There are several workbenches that serve multitasking for a particular query. Publication ready image generation is quite simple too.

What Skills Should a Bioinformatician Have?

A bioinformatician is expected to be aware of the foundational biological topics as well as the mathematical concepts behind bioinformatics tools. Must be fully aware of the latest happenings in the bioinformatics world.

The most commonly sought bioinformatician skills are mentioned below.

  • Understanding of data and ability to represent it pictorially for publications and presentations
  • Ability to process incoming biological data and perform quality check
  • Ability to filter out the false data and transform useful data into understandable forms
  • Understanding of machine learning tools and applying mathematical statistics
  • Knowledge of tools for data visualization
  • General understanding of tools and analysis
  • Ability to generate databases and its maintenance, retrieval
  • Ability to write programming code and document it for later analysis
  • Writing efficient and reusable codes for python and R packages
  • Data science-based skills such as machine learning, programming, data manipulations, and interpretations are also required

A bioinformatician should be proficient in writing and speaking in the English language (international). For scientific draft preparation and later on presentation at conferences, this ability is a must. They must have knowledge about the latest developments in core computer sciences and try to include those in biological research.

What Does a Bioinformatician Do? (Job Description)

A bioinformatician is not fixated on a single job. He is a multitasker. His diverse set of skills are handy in solving different segments of a biological problem-sequence analysis, structure analysis, dataset analysis, visualization, presentation.

Sometimes, they solve a structural biology problem and sometimes they are stuck in computational algorithms for developing a new program. There are several bioinformatics career paths to be opted. The most common job profiles are mentioned below.

  • Database programmer: designing new database with annotated and curated data
  • Junior research associate: a Ph.D. candidate is eligible for this position, works under supervisors
  • Senior research scientist: a postdoctoral candidate can apply for this position under supervisors
  • Software developer: writing codes in different programming languages to develop bioinformatics tools
  • Scientific writer: literature review and preparation of manuscript for assigned project with references
  • Professor/lecturer: giving lectures to undergraduate, postgraduate, Ph.D. students and designing tests
  • Computational biologist: interpretation of biological data using bioinformatics tools and appropriate representation
  • Pharmacologist: Study of the drug efficacy on different diseases and testing its safety
  • Network analyst: managing and analyzing the computational networking
  • Graphical designer: representation of interpretations into pictorial and graphical formats

Where Do Bioinformaticians Work?

Bioinformaticians are found in every industry, research lab, pharmacy companies, educational bodies and institutions. Most of them are hired by the companies mentioned here.

  • Most commonly they are found in IT companies such as Google, Microsoft, and more as software developers
  • The pharmaceutical industries such as Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson, Novartis, and more hire research scientists. You might have heard of the Pfizer vaccine developed against COVID-19.
  • Educational institutions such as Oxford, Harvard MIT, and similar computer science departments have professors and researchers from the bioinformatics domain.
  • Individual bodies of research and training are occupied with bioinformaticians for specific research projects related to human physiology- diseases and pathways.
  • As network analysts and database developers in international research centers- NCBI, EMBL, DDBJ, and more.
  • At medical and clinical research centers for curating and annotating the available medical data

What Jobs Can I Get with a Bioinformatics Degree?

Depending upon the degree someone has in the subject of bioinformatics, they can avail particular jobs. For graduates, it is recommended that they pursue higher education such as a master’s degree in bioinformatics. A postgraduate in bioinformatics can avail the research associate and the research scholar positions. Here they can pursue a career, earn stipends, as well as get their Ph.D. degrees.

The Ph.D. holders can be assigned as professors or lecturers in renowned educational institutions. They are in demand to continue as research scientists and senior research fellows. They are compensated well due to knowledge and experience in the field. They can also apply for bioinformatics engineer positions.

As described earlier, there are a number of job positions that a bioinformatics student can avail. The most common ones are mentioned here with the possible eligibility criteria.

  • Research associate: with at least a Ph.D. degree
  • Data analyst: with a masters degree and experience
  • Research scholar: with a masters degree
  • Professor: with Ph.D. or postdoctoral degree
  • Scientist: with a Ph.D. or postdoctoral degree
  • Pharmacologist: with a Ph.D. degree
  • Computational biologist: with Ph.D. degree and experience
  • Scientific writer: with masters degree
  • Software developer: with masters degree and experience in coding

There are many more opportunities such as scientific officer, editor, reviewer, and similar other posts.

For more details on the best 5 bioinformatics career paths, you can read our article. It defines the top in-demand bioinformatics positions along with the description of salary for each.

How Much Does a Bioinformatician Make? (Salary Overview)

Salary and incentives remain the top priority for all those who wish to seek a career in bioinformatics. It is quite expected and obvious. There is great diversity in the salary in different geographical regions.

According to a reliable salary website, bioinformatician salary ranges between 77,000 USD to 99,000 USD per year. The average salary is 87,000 USD. The variation occurs due to a number of factors- years of experience, bioinformatics skills, previous work history, and so on.

Developed countries like- USA, UK, Germany, China, Japan, Russia, Australia offer higher pay as compared to Asian and African continents. This is due to lack of opportunities and the still growing market for bioinformatics.

A bioinformatician could be working in different fields- drug designing, structure prediction, tool development, data visualization and interpretation, and so on. Each of these has different pay scales. It depends on the task complexity and the physical location of job centers.

Why You Should Choose Bioinformatics as a Career Option

Considering the demand for bioinformaticians in both industrial and non-industrial domains, it would be right to say that bioinformatics is a good career option. The surge in scientific biological data is expected in the upcoming decades (next 10 to 20 years) and therefore data managers and interpreters are required in the form of bioinformaticians.

The demand is high but the supply is low. Hence, becoming a bioinformatician and choosing the in-demand job profile can really boost the career. It is undoubtedly a growing field. One can say that it is merely the beginning of the bioinformatics era.

There is a lot to explore in different biological genres. Viruses, bacteria, fungi, and similar other life forms are yet to be studied in depth using bioinformatics. Looking at the surplus biomedical data coming from patients suffering from different diseases, it is undeniable that bioinformatics is soon going to be more popular.

For more details on the bioinformatics scope in India and abroad, you can go through our article titled Scope of Bioinformatics

Final words

The most deadly cause of death in the world is cancer. Most cancer types are undiagnosable at the initial stages through biopsy. It is only at the later or near-death stage that biomarkers are detected in samples.

Oncological studies based on bioinformatics approaches such as Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are successfully done. Early detection of cancer can be made possible with an undiagnosed cancer data set. The stage of cancer and possible treatment can be predicted.

Hence, bioinformatics careers in cancer and other disease studies are very wonderful. The fate of bioinformatics is positive and bright. The upcoming years in the field of medical sciences would be determined by the role of bioinformatics.

We hope this blog helps you in answering your questions. Choosing a career in bioinformatics might be one of the right decisions of your life. It is certainly going to revolutionize the field of biology as well as computer sciences.

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