Log in ....Tribune

Dot.ComLatest in ITFree DownloadsOn hardware

Monday, September 3, 2001

Using IT to decipher genes
Sumesh Raizada

TODAY, computers have penetrated in almost every field concerning mankind, whether it is accounts, science, arts or arithmetic. Though, most of the applications till now were in the field of advanced research, accounting or Web-related packages, scientists and biologists have now realised its immense potential in the field of life sciences, pharmaceuticals and crop research also. Biologists and scientists are carrying out study of genes to determine the causes of various deformities, diseases, and their remedies. These researches have generated voluminous data and theories, which are almost impossible to manage and compile. This has led to the entry of computers and IT tools in biological research to enable scientist to collect, compile and analyse the data related to animals or plants. This interaction between IT and life sciences has been termed as Bioinformatics. It involves developing computational tools and techniques and specialised software packages for application in molecular research and development. The growth and immense potential of IT and biotechnology in India as well as in the Western countries has encouraged several industries and academic institutions to carry out systematic research in this field. Hence career potential are immense in this field for graduates, postgraduates or doctorates in life sciences, mathematics, computers, agriculture, medicine or engineering.

Bioinformatics involves different aspects of molecular modelling, sequence analysis, database access, bibliographies, etc. Computers are used to gather and analyse genetic as well as biological information, which in turn is applied for drug or crop development. The diverse information that is generated needs to be organised and analysed. Since it is not possible for scientists to do so manually, assistance of computer professionals with background in biology or biologists with interest in computers is taken.


Bioinformatics helps in generating genomic information to understand various diseases and to identify suitable drugs. It is thus an advanced application of information technology and data base technique to analyse data obtained by experiments, modelling, sequencing, etc. Bioinformatics combines molecular biology, biochemistry and computer science to solve health and genetic problems.

In Bioinformatics, persons with diverse academic background and experience converge together on a single platform for a common objective. However, those who are formally qualified in Bioinformatics are in great demand especially in the USA, where leading pharmaceutical and drug manufacturing companies are in stiff competition with each other for developing cure for gene-based diseases. India that has facilities for advanced research in molecular biology, biochemistry, agriculture, has taken a lead in providing education and training on Bioinformatics. The government, realising its growth potential and scope has also funded several institutes all over the country to carry out research and education in this field. Some of these centres are at Chandigarh, Calcutta, Madurai, Hyderabad, etc. Besides, IISc Bangalore, JNU, Delhi and Pune University also carry out advanced courses on bioinformatics. Several software and pharmaceutical companies are also providing separate in house courses for the interested candidates. Bioinformatics also has its applications in genome projects for other animals, plants, microorganism, bacteria, viruses, etc. It broadly involves processes like sequence assembly, database design, sequence analysis, proteomics and pharmacogenomics. A bioinformatic professional needs to be aware of related subjects like molecular biology, chemistry and computer sciences.

They work with researchers and scientists in organising experiments and data collections to work out the most reliable and useful information. People from all walks of life are entering into this field, whether they are qualified MBBS doctors or agriculture engineers. However, mostly postgraduates and doctorates in biochemistry, botany, molecular biology or computer software professionals prefer this career. Bioinformatics professionals are required for design and implementation of software for creation, storage, and analysis of vast amount of DNA sequence data. This involves programming and data base skills along with in depth knowledge of biology.

Various universities in the USA and other countries are also conducing regular as well as online courses on bioinformatics. The University of Science in Philadelphia offers both graduate as well postgraduate degrees in bioinformatics and provide curriculum on basic sciences like biochemistry along with necessary computing and programming skills. Others are Boston University, University of Washington, University of California, Rice University and Stanford University.

A portal pearlsource.com conducts online learning course on bioinformatics and covers topics like Unix OS, Pearl programming, Sequence Analysis and writing pearl for sequence analysis. S-Star, an amalgamation of several universities, has also launched an online course on bioinformatics. These universities are from Sweden, Singapore, South Africa and Australia and students therefore have an advantage of being exposed simultaneously to research activities undergoing in these countries.

Various programming and Web-based skills are required for bioinformatic professionals. These are packages like GCG, BLAST or HTML, JAVA, Pearl, C++, Unix, SQL, Sybase, Oracle, CORBA, CGI, etc. Software companies like Busywire Infosys, provides specialised course on bioinformatics. Satyam Computers, a leading IT firm, is working in bioinformatics for developing software and computer services for the pharmaceutical research and healthcare industries. It has tied up with the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology for generating business opportunities in gene research, complex database tools, and pharmaceutical research.

Salaries earned by bioinformatics professionals are enormous, considering there immense utility in drugs and pharmaceutical research as the costs incurred in developing them are very high. In India, they might earn around Rs.2,00,000/- per annum while in the USA, salaries range from $ 70,000 and above. Companies which provide employment opportunities for these professionals are IBM, Incyte Genomics, Structural Bioinformatics, Celera, DSQ, GVK, NetGenics, MDL Information system, ZymoGenetics, Compugen, InforMax, etc. The Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, JNU Delhi, Pune University and Centre for Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, etc. provides learning as well employment opportunities for bioinformatics professionals. One year advanced diploma course in bioinformatics is being offered at the Bioinformatics Centre, Madurai Kamaraj University; BOSE Institute, Kolkata is involved in R&D in bioinformatics, manpower training, creation of bioinformatics resources, sequence analysis, molecular modelling, etc. Its software is used in different universities and research centres.

Recently CDFD, Hyderabad, and TCS have started working on a bioinformatics project on automated genome analysis, DNA fingerprinting, cancer biology, etc. The Bioinformatics Centre at the Institute of Microbial Technology, Chandigarh, develops software, database and other tools required for creating infrastructure in the field of protein modeling, software for biosciences, etc. Employment opportunities are also available for engineers, computer professionals, etc. to provide technical assistance to scientists for biocomputing and bioinformatics services. They should have sufficient experience in Solaris, JAVA, Pearl, C++, etc. as well as in database tools.

This lucrative career is most suited for those with an aptitude for research and innovation.