What is bioinformatics?
Bioinformatics is a field that combines aspects of several scientific and technological disciplines, most notably computer science and molecular biology. The term “bioinformatics” refers to the use of information technologies to gain greater insight into the biological processes of the human body and other living organisms, including those biological functions that occur at the molecular and genetic levels. Bioinformaticists use databases, statistical analysis, computer applications, and mathematical algorithms to collect and analyze information regarding essential biological structures and operations. The technological and informational tools used by bioinformaticists play a vital role in DNA mapping; the sequencing of proteins, amino acids, and nucleotides; 3-D visualizations of cellular structures; and gene identification. In addition, bioinformatics is crucial to the process of discovering, designing, and perfecting new drugs and other treatments.
One of the most impressive scientific projects of the last few decades, the mapping of the human genome, would have been impossible without contributions from the field of bioinformatics and its practitioners. The number of bioinformatics jobs is on the rise, as the need for information systems and technological tools to organize and analyze biological data continues to increase.
Why is bioinformatics important?
In recent decades, the information that has become available to medical practitioners and researchers regarding the molecular structures of the human body has grown in quantity and complexity to such a degree that new technological tools have been required to manage and analyze it. Bioinformaticists has helped practitioners and researchers navigate the vast stores of bio-information available to them by developing and using information systems that provide easy access to essential data and enable the retrieval of only the information that is required to resolve a particular problem or answer a particular biological or medical question. In addition, bioinformatics jobs involve the development of mathematical algorithms, statistical formulas, and applications that allow practitioners and researchers to perceive, understand, and analyze the significance of specific pieces of data, as well as the interrelationships between various, seemingly disparate pieces of information.
Bioinformaticists create and implement such important analytical and informational tools as protein models and genomic maps. Bioinformatics has enabled genetic engineers to develop new methods and techniques and given molecular biologists and other scientists new insights into evolutionary biology, the molecular basis of diseases, the role of genes in individual pathology, and the means through which genes express themselves in living organisms.
How does one become a bioinformaticist?
Education is particularly important for aspiring health information administrators who wish to work in the field of bioinformatics. Health information administrators who choose this cutting edge specialty must generally hold an advanced degree in bioinformatics in order to obtain a position in the research laboratories where bioinformaticists do most of their work. Top-level bioinformaticists often have doctorates in bioinformatics or in a related field, such as molecular biology or genetic engineering. A successful bioinformaticist must have a solid grounding in computer science as well as the life sciences, including genetics and cellular biology. Many pursue research fellowships at the post-graduate level in order to further their research interests. Most bioinformatics jobs are found in advanced research laboratories run by medical facilities, academic institutions, or large governmental agencies.
What kind of degree is required to specialize in bioinformatics?
An advanced degree—a master’s degree or, preferably, a doctorate—is needed to work as a health information administrator in the field of bioinformatics. These health informatics degrees frequently offered by medical schools, schools of public health, and graduate schools of biology and epidemiology. Some bioinformatics degrees are available as a form of post-graduate study for those who complete medical or nursing school or who already have a graduate degree in biology, molecular biology, or a related discipline. Some medical and other institutions that train healthcare professionals allow students to concentrate in bioinformatics or earn a master’s degree or certificate in bioinformatics concurrently with their degree in clinical practice. Bioinformatics programs offer classes in biology, molecular biology, genetics, epidemiology, computer science, advanced mathematics, and information systems. The curriculum leading to a bioinformatics degree includes a significant research component. In many programs, students spend half their time in class and the other half in research laboratories or other research settings.
What kind of salary do bioinformaticists make?
Health information administrators who choose to specialize in bioinformatics earn salaries that are significantly higher than the nationwide average. On the national level, the average bioinformaticist makes $74,000 annually, which is about ten percent higher than the average for all professions. However, aspiring bioinformaticists should keep in mind that experience level, educational credentials, can all cause wide variations in salary. Entry-level bioinformaticists may make significantly less, as little as $50,000 a year, when they first take a job in a research facility. Nonetheless, bioinformatics holds great potential for salary increase and professional advancement. With the right credentials and a few years of experience, health administrators concentrating in bioinformatics can find themselves making annual salaries of well over $100,000.