Bioinformatics links together molecular biology, mathematical analysis and computing, and is, essentially, about using computers to interpret biological data in order to understand and solve biological problems.
Genomics, a branch of molecular biology is producing such vast quantities of data (for example, gene sequencing for human beings or for flowering plants) that scientists need to use sophisticated bioinformatics principles, skills and software to identify routes to genetic therapy and predict targets for new drugs. There are now more than 40 billion pieces of DNA data on the internet and bioinformatics makes it possible for scientists to analyse and understand this data and use it in wide-ranging research and development - from pharmaceuticals to agriculture, from biotechnology to public health, from government to the food industry.
Example areas of study
Bioinformatics can be studied as a single honours subject or in a joint course with another subject such as biology or computer science. The courses tend to focus on molecular biology and computer science and are likely to include many of the example topic areas below. The courses differ and you will need to check with the universities themselves to find out exactly what you would study both as core and optional units/modules.
- Human genetics
- Biological diversity
- Cell biology
- Molecular biology
- Systems biology
- Cancer genetics
- Computer programming
- Computer databases
- Generation and storage of biological data
- Analysis of biological data
- Interpretation of biological data sets
- Numerical methods
- Statistics, statistical methods and tools
- Biological data mining
- Bioinformatics software
- Laboratory skills
- Research methods
Some Career possibilities
Bioinformatics is an expanding new biological science. There is a shortage of highly trained scientists with a thorough knowledge of molecular cell biology, expertise in writing and using bioinformatics software and an understanding of statistics to handle vast amounts of biological information. Past graduates have gone into the pharmaceutical, agrochemical and food industries, into government and public health laboratories, and into computing and information technology. Many also study for higher degrees and go into research.
What do I need to get on a course?
The entry requirements for courses in this area are reasonably high and you will be expected to include 2 or 3 science subjects. The requirements do differ from institution to institution so make sure you check what is required of you in terms of grades and qualifications before you submit your application. The list below is intended as a guide.
- UCAS Tariff: 240 - 340 points including 2 or 3 science subjects
- A-levels: CCC - AAB including 2 or 3 science subjects
- SQA Highers: AABBB - AAAAB including 2 or 3 science subjects
- SQA Advanced Highers: CCC - AAB including 2 or 3 science subject
- Irish Leaving Certificates: AAABB including 2 science subjects and mathematics
- International Baccalaureate: 32 - 35 points including 2 science subjects
- BTEC National Diploma: DDM - DDD Applied Science
For your application or interview, the following could be useful:
- Good computing skills and interest in computer programming and molecular biology
- Further information on bioinformatics is available from The Bioinformatics Organisation, The European Bioinformatics Institute and BMC Bioinformatics.
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