What Does A Bioinformatician Do? (Duties, Skills And FAQs)
Updated 7 September 2023
A career in bioinformatics allows you to combine your expertise in biology, computer science and statistics to understand complex biological data. Bioinformaticians use computational tools and methods to address various biological questions and challenges. Understanding the roles and responsibilities of a bioinformatician can help you determine if this career path is right for you. In this article, we answer 'What does a bioinformatician do?', discuss the essential skills for success and address some frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the profession.
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What Does A Bioinformatician Do?
You might wonder 'What does a bioinformatician do?' if you are considering your career options. They combine expertise in biology, computer science and statistics to analyse, interpret and manage complex biological data. They work in various fields, including genomics, proteomics, drug discovery, personalised medicine and evolutionary studies. The duties and responsibilities of a bioinformatician include:
Data analysis: Bioinformaticians analyse large datasets with various experimental techniques such as next-generation sequencing (NGS), mass spectrometry and gene expression microarray analysis. They apply advanced computational methods and statistical models to identify data patterns, relationships and trends.
Data management: Bioinformaticians design and maintain databases to store and manage biological data, such as DNA sequences, protein structures and gene expression profiles. They ensure data integrity, security and accessibility for researchers.
Software development: Bioinformaticians create, test and maintain software tools and pipelines to facilitate data analysis and visualisation. These tools may be an in-house development or modification of existing open-source solutions.
Collaboration with researchers: Bioinformaticians work closely with experimental and computational biologists and other researchers to design experiments, interpret results and generate hypotheses for further study. They provide training and support to colleagues in using bioinformatics tools and resources.
Research and innovation: Bioinformaticians help advance their field by conducting original research and publishing their findings in scientific journals. They attend conferences and workshops to stay current with emerging technologies and methodologies, fostering collaboration and knowledge exchange within the scientific community.
Here are a few skills that enable bioinformaticians to fulfil their responsibilities:
Genomic data analysis
Genomic data analysis involves examining and interpreting genetic sequences to understand the functions, structures and interactions of genes and other similar elements. This skill helps bioinformaticians identify and classify genes, predict genetic functions and discover new biological processes. Additionally, genomic data analysis allows them to study the genetic basis of diseases and develop diagnostic tools and treatments.
Bioinformaticians have proficiency in programming languages such as Python, R and Perl for data manipulation and analysis. These languages allow them to create custom scripts, tools and software solutions to analyse and visualise large-scale biological data. Bioinformaticians use this proficiency to perform complex tasks efficiently and automate processes, significantly enhancing their productivity and accuracy.
Database management involves organising and maintaining biological databases, such as gene sequence and protein structure repositories. Bioinformaticians rely on these databases to access, retrieve and store essential biological information. By effectively managing databases, they ensure data integrity, facilitate information sharing among researchers and contribute to developing bioinformatics tools and algorithms.
Machine learning is a subset of artificial intelligence that uses statistical techniques to enable computers to learn from data and make predictions or decisions. Bioinformaticians use machine learning algorithms to make computers understand large-scale biological data, identify patterns and predict gene functions or disease outcomes. This helps them discover new insights, develop predictive models and contribute to advancing biomedical research domains.
Sequence alignment is a technique that bioinformaticians use to compare and identify similarities between genetic sequences, such as DNA or protein patterns. It allows bioinformaticians to understand evolutionary relationships, predict the functions of unknown genes and identify conserved functional elements. This skill helps bioinformaticians assess complex genetic information within biological sequences.
Structural bioinformatics involves the study of the three-dimensional structures of biomolecules, such as proteins and nucleic acids, and their interactions. This skill helps bioinformaticians predict protein structures, analyse protein–ligand interactions and design drugs or therapeutic agents. Bioinformaticians use structural bioinformatic principles to gain insights into the molecular mechanisms of biological processes and contribute to developing treatments.
Systems biology is an interdisciplinary field that seeks to understand the complex interactions among biological components at different levels, from molecules to ecosystems. Bioinformaticians use computational models and network analysis techniques to study biological systems' properties and behaviours. This skill allows them to integrate various types of biological data, identify key regulatory components and predict the effects of disruptions on system dynamics.
Data visualisation is the process of representing information in graphical or pictorial forms, such as charts, graphs or heat maps. Bioinformaticians use this skill to communicate complex biological data effectively to researchers and other teams. Data visualisation techniques allow them to identify patterns, trends and anomalies in large datasets, allowing them to interpret and present their findings.
Collaboration and communication
Bioinformaticians often work in interdisciplinary teams with other researchers, such as biologists, chemists and computer scientists. Effective collaboration and communication skills help bioinformaticians to ensure smooth project execution, share ideas and knowledge and contribute to research advancement. It helps them convey complex technical concepts in simple, non-technical language to researchers from other disciplines, present their findings at scientific conferences and publish their work in peer-reviewed journals.
FAQs About The Bioinformatician Profession
Here are a few FAQs about this profession:
What are the necessary qualifications to become a bioinformatician?
The necessary qualifications to become a bioinformatician typically include having a strong educational background in a relevant field and practical experience in bioinformatics. To start, pursue a bachelor's degree in genomics, applied biology, genetic engineering, life sciences, biotechnology, biochemistry or a similar field. Some institutions also offer a bachelor's degree in bioinformatics.
To further enhance your qualifications, pursue a master's or PhD in bioinformatics or a similar field. During your studies, consider gaining practical experience through internships, research projects or work in bioinformatics labs. Successful bioinformaticians typically have strong programming skills in languages such as Python, R or Perl and proficiency in data analysis, statistics and computational biology.
What industries hire bioinformaticians?
Many industries hire bioinformaticians due to their unique skill set, which combines expertise in biology, computer science and data analysis. Two primary sectors that hire bioinformaticians are the health care and pharmaceutical industries. Within these sectors, bioinformaticians contribute to drug discovery, personalised medicine and diagnostic tool development by analysing large-scale biological data such as genomic sequences, protein structures and gene expression profiles.
They also find work opportunities in academia, research institutes and government agencies, where they may work on environmental science, agriculture and evolutionary biology projects. Some bioinformaticians also work for biotechnology companies, focusing on areas such as synthetic biology or genetic engineering.
What is NGS?
NGS refers to a set of advanced DNA sequencing technologies that enable rapid, high-throughput and cost-effective analysis of genetic information. Unlike traditional Sanger sequencing, which analyses one DNA fragment at a time, NGS allows the simultaneous processing of millions of fragments. This significantly speeds up the process and provides a comprehensive view of an individual's genes.
These powerful tools have revolutionised various fields of biology, including genomics, transcriptomics and epigenetics. NGS has applications in personalised medicine, disease diagnosis, drug development, evolutionary research, agriculture and environmental studies. As technology advances, many expect NGS to become more accurate, efficient and accessible, further transforming the understanding of genetics and its impact on long-term health.
What is a bioinformatician's work environment?
A bioinformatician's work environment can vary depending on the industry and type of organisation but typically involves a combination of office and laboratory settings. Bioinformaticians spend significant time working on computers, analysing complex biological data, developing algorithms and using specialised software tools to better understand and interpret genomic information. They collaborate with other scientists, such as molecular biologists, geneticists and computer scientists, to solve biological problems and advance scientific research.
Research institutions, universities, pharmaceutical companies, biotechnology firms and government agencies typically employ bioinformaticians. The industries offer bioinformaticians opportunities for intellectual growth, innovation and multidisciplinary collaboration. Work settings can range from small, focused research teams to large, global projects, depending on the bioinformatician's specific goals and interests.
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