An Understandable Definition of Bioinformatics

by Derrick Story

As someone who is neither a programmer nor a biologist (me), but who appreciates both disciplines, Lincoln Stein's keynote Wednesday morning at the O'Reilly Bioinformatics Conference was the talk I had been waiting for.

Before getting into the details of BioPerl, Blast, and life science clusters, I wanted to know what is bioinformatics and where does it stand in the world of science, er programming, er both. Lincoln proceeded to help me understand this issue.

What is Bioinformatics Anyhow?

Is DNA and protein analysis bioinformatics? Managing data sets? Using computers to process large amounts of data in biology? Well, maybe.

Lincoln says bioinformatics is, "Biologists using computers, or the other way around." He's not exactly sure what it is, but it's growing. Bioinformatics is more of a tool than a discipline. Biology is a discipline. It's a study.

Ultimately, bioinformatics is really biology too: high-throughput biology, integrative biology, but biology nonetheless.

Bioinformatics as a Career

In 2000 this became a hot, possibly an over-hot career choice, with hefty salaries attached. Now things have settled down a bit with comproable salaries with cell biology and clinical research.

(BTW: Writing bioinformatics software is tougher and very competitive. You probably won't get rich in this arena.)

How to make it in Bioinformatics

  1. Learn Biology.

  2. Pick a problem that interests you.

  3. Know your tools.

  4. Don't be ghettoized.

  5. Do it because you love it.

Bottom line, the computer has become an essential tool for the biologist just like the microscope. And bioinformatics will eventually become part of biology itself.

OK, that really helps. Now I'm ready to attend a few sessions and get into the details of this interesting convergence of biology and programming.


2003-02-05 17:21:00
More Detail on Lincoln's Talk
If you want to know more than the executive summary I presented in this weblog, take a look at Daniel Steinberg's excellent article, Stein Gives Bioinformatics Ten Years to Live.
2003-08-05 06:54:59
Full text?
Is the full text of Stein's keynote available for download anywhere?

Pointers much appreciated...