What is Bioinformatics? A Guide to Biological Technology
What is bioinformatics? This is a question that one probably wouldn’t ponder unless the word “bioinformatics” were to come up in conversation or read about in an article. Bioinformatics is a specific research and development field dealing with technology that organizes, stores, and retrieves biological information. On top of that, bioinformatics technology may also process certain types of biological information on a level that would be highly difficult for humans to interpret and process by hand. Comparing and matching DNA sequences and pinpointing genome mutations are just part of what bioinformatics has a hand in.
The Beginning of Bioinformatics
The basic foundation of this field began in 1970 with the actual coining of the phrase “bioinformatics.” There weren’t any major developments in this area until the early 1980’s when scientists began to make major headway in gene mapping. “In situ hybridization,” a hybridization technique that allows scientists to locate specific DNA and RNA sequences in a tissue, became the preferred method in genetic mapping. In the late 1980’s, HUGO (the Human Genome Organization) was created and some of the world’s top scientists helped to launch the creation of the Human Genome Project. In just a few short years HUGO had successfully mapped almost 2,000 human genes. In 1996, a French genome research center called Genethon created the first fully completed human genetic map.
The completion of the human genetic map kick-stated a demand for large-scale databases—a means of storing and retrieving all of the genetic data produced by the Human Genome Project and several other similar projects that were cropping up. Scientists not only began to create various algorithms to locate and map various sequences of DNA and RNA, but they also began to broaden the types of technology used to detect and manage their findings. In the late 1990’s scientists made major discoveries using bioinformatics, including the genetic link to preeclampsia, mapping the E.coli genome, and discovering the location of the FET1 gene. Further efforts went into sequencing complete chromosomes. The Human Genome Project reached completion in April 2003.
A Career in Bioinformatics
Although there have been great strides made in this field over the last couple of decades, scientists are still striving to fully sequence each chromosome in the human body and to better understand the nuances of each one. This will give scientists and doctors a better understanding of what traits are governed by specific chromosomes and also which medical conditions are linked to the presence of certain mutations or defects on a chromosomal basis. This type of biomedical research can give humanity the edge it needs to overcome some devastating chromosomal conditions, such as Down syndrome, Edwards’ syndrome, William’s syndrome, and Patau syndrome.
Pursuing a career in bioinformatics is a great way to contribute to the research that will hopefully help scientists gain a better understanding of the intricacies of the human genome. Many individuals shy away from a career in bioinformatics because the prospect of learning and retaining large amounts of biological and scientific information may seem overwhelming. In truth, a career in bioinformatics is largely based upon mathematics, engineering, and computer science. Many individuals who work in this field are trained to gain a deeper understanding of computer-based technology with emphasis in improving existing technology and engineering new and innovative machines. In reality, one needn’t understand the intricate biological details of the human body in order to create a computer code to isolate, analyze, and store genetic information. Individuals with a gift for computer coding, technology, a math might genuinely be cut out for a career in bioinformatics. Knowing that one will contribute to humanity’s understanding of genetics (thus possible future prevention of genetic conditions) can be extremely rewarding.
Higher Education in Bioinformatics
More and more higher learning institutes are offering interdisciplinary training in bioinformatics. Those who are interested in pursuing such a degree may have a lot of questions about what his or her education might entail. Each university and college has its own curriculum for this degree program which may be influenced by any specialty areas that may be pursued. Most degree programs in bioinformatics are Masters or Bachelors of Science, Engineering, or Art. These degrees require anywhere from three to five years to complete. If desired, one may also pursue a Ph.D or Doctorate of Science in computational biology or biomedical informatics. For those less interested in long-term educational commitments, there are also certificate programs offered by colleges and universities all over the world. Some institutes even offer the opportunity to gain a certificate or degree through online education, which might be ideal for those who are pursuing this education “on the side” or who are have other commitments that make it difficult to attend classes on campus.
Understanding the primary goals for those who participate in biomedical informatics can better help to answer the question: what is bioinformatics? The main goal is to simply better understand the “genetic puzzle” that is the human body. To decipher the coding that is essentially the blueprint of life. In turn, understanding these nuances can help scientists develop better pre-diagnostic tools and maybe eventually even create a method for correcting abnormalities and mutations of a genetic nature.