What bioinformatics skills should be taught to undergraduate biology students?


Dr. Todd Smith and others will be exploring answers to this question in April at the first meeting of the Research Collaboratory Network for Integrating Bioinformatics into Life Sciences Education, funded by the National Science Foundation.  As the former head and CSO for Geospiza, a PerkinElmer company,  Dr. Smith is continuing a long-standing Digital World Biology tradition of assisting educators by providing an industry perspective on the needs of biotechnicians concerning the use of bioinformatics in the industry.

Dr. Smith heads up business development and consulting services for Digital World Biology. In the meeting he will contribute ideas based on the following abstract.

What do bioinformaticians do?

Bioinformatics is a broad topic and education programs that seek to train students for future careers face several conundrums with respect to instructional topics and depth of specialization. At a high-level, bioinformatics bridges biology and information science. In practical terms, future biologists need to have basic computer skills and be able to use a multiplicity of software programs and navigate information resources. Some will augment these basic skills and become data analysts where they use command line interfaces, write computer scripts, and develop databases to automate data processing activities. At the other extreme, some students will become computational biologists and develop specialized computer programs that examine data in deep ways or develop tools to understand completely new kinds of data. These individuals study computer science, and develop skills in statistics and data visualization; they often collaborate with biologists on specific problems. Finally, software engineers complete the cycle. They combine the programs into systems with graphical and web-based interfaces to support larger numbers of biologists who need to work with data in their research.  Industry requires all facets of bioinformatics. Companies that develop software for biologists have greater needs for biologists with strong computer skills and experienced software engineers, whereas companies with a biotechnology, pharmaceutics, diagnostic focus create teams of biologists, data analysts and computational biologists. As an example, Digital World Biology employs software engineers, industry experts and biology instructors to create novel applications that use bioinformatics to teach biology. 

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