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Bioinformatics sounds like a futurist-type of occupation that could only be found in the not-too-distant future, the discipline is here and growing fast. Bioinformatics is the combination of computer science, data analytics, and biology.
Basically, it is the process of collecting, storing, and processing massive amounts of data using powerful computing programs, but the data that is collected and analyzed is biological data.
Bioinformatics has been used for cutting-edge, scientific studies like DNA sequencing, analyzing biological networks in systems biology, and simulating biomolecular interactions.
While often confused with computational biology — the use of bioengineering tech and computers to study biology — bioinformatics has a heavier emphasis on the study of computer science techniques in order to aid the study of biology.
Both require extensive knowledge of computer science, data analysis, and biology, but bioinformatics is about building the tools for studying biology while computational biology is about studying biology using those tools.
There are a hefty list of skills required to work as a bioinformatician and many who work in the field hold at least a Masters of Science, if not a Doctorate degree. Since bioinformatics is a cross-disciplinary career, bioinformaticians must have skills related to programming, mathematics, and biology.
According to BiteSizeBio, the top skills required to be a bioinformatician include:
- Statistical analysis
- Scripting languages such as Python, R, or Matlab
- Machine learning
- Database management
- Data mining
- Genomic and genetic knowledge
- Bioinformatics tooling
- Biology specialization
- Molecular biology, genetics, cancer biology, or modern biology
- Bioinformatics tooling
- Sequence alignment tools, Genome Analysis Toolkit (GATK), gene data sets, etc…
The salary for bioinformaticians range a lot based on two big factors: highest degree earned and location. According to Glassdoor, the average pay for a bioinformatician is around $96,000, but a bioinformatician living in the Bay Area with an MS or Ph.D can earn well over $150,000 a year.
Read The Bioinformatics Salary Report for a more in-depth look into the earning potential of a bioinformatician.
Day in the Life of a Bioinformatician
Bioinformaticians work closely with technicians, biologists, and computational biologists on a daily basis. Most days, they are studying biological data sets — like genomic, proteomic, and post-genomic databases — and helping technicians use and improve bioinformatics tools.
Through complex analysis and mathematical knowledge, bioinformaticians develop algorithms and analytical tools for scientific projects (this is why biological knowledge is critical).
Bioinformaticians also need to be up-to-date on current trends in existing bioinformatics software and often recommend tools to biologists as well as help them configure, customize, learn, and debug the software.
Technology and Healthcare
At the recent AI for Healthcare Virtual Conference hosted by Udacity, one of the top takeaways was the usefulness of wearable tech. Wearable tech can gather real-time medical data on the wearer overtime to help doctors notice trends and spot signs for deadly diseases much faster than they could from running tests in the lab once the patient notices symptoms and sees the doctor.
Additionally, artificial intelligence (AI) was predicted to be one of the top disruptors of the healthcare industry in the coming years. From diagnosing diseases to predicting pandemics, AI technology can be applied to the healthcare industry to save lives and help keep everyone healthier.
Analyzing the data that comes from just one piece of wearable tech is computationally heavy. Analyzing big data that comes from millions in the population in order to predict pandemics is also computationally heavy. More research and new tools must be developed to make this technology accessible to everyone.
Your Future in Bioinformatics
If working on world-changing technology in bioinformatics sounds exciting, you’re in luck. Job growth in the bioinformatics field is projected to grow up to 9% in the coming years.
You can begin learning today by enrolling in the AI for Healthcare Nanodegree program from Udacity.