Bioinformatics is a discipline that combines molecular biology, statistics and computer skills into a discipline that now resembles a data science skill set with a focus on biological or biomedical data. More and more, we are seeing the growing demand for data science skills and at the same time, not everyone is drawn to become an engineer. Many students are interested in people and the natural world around us. This interest is relevant to the medical professions, life sciences, ecology and other domains that require data science skills. And while it is important to continue to incorporate more STEM classes like robotics, engineering and coding, we believe that bioinformatics can help students see other applications of critical thinking, informatics and data science in exciting domains related to natural sciences.
As early as middle school, many students join specialty clubs and projects that can help inform their view of their future career and help explore the way various skills are applied in industry, research and other types of “work”. Bioinformatics is such a discipline that combines hard skills and communication and presentation skills that are needed across a spectrum of applications. Courses in bioinformatics have been piloted at various schools and these pilots demonstrate an interest and potential impact this discipline can bring to students.
Another important aspect of bioinformatics is citizen science – how can one transition from a passive observer to a participant in the world around us. The biology of the world around us, including ecology, biological diversity and healthcare are perfect opportunities to show how the publicly available resources and data can empower students to be citizen scientists. In the public databases, there are many datasets related to archeology/history (history of humanity in particular), paleontology and climate changes, linguistics (for instance, geographical distribution of genomic DNA vs. distribution of languages), sociology (maps of economic development and health in dependence on the genomic and microbiome diversity) , criminalistics (DNA, microbiome) , general health care, etc, and certainly molecular/cellular personalized medicine and genomic based agriculture.
But access to the data is not enough. Students must have the training and tools that they can use to process and analyze these datasets. Also they need mentors to guide them and show them what can be done and how. Our experts at Pine Biotech can help make bioinformatics accessible to schools where this process begins. Our company has been working with faculty and researchers in various academic institutions to design a program, called OmicsLogic, that is easy to implement and scale up. The program offers online curriculum, project examples and access to computational methods that will be required for analysis. Each project is a public-domain dataset that highlights one of the topics mentioned above. With these datasets as examples, researchers can demonstrate: (1) the scientific challenge of each project, (2) how the genomic data can be found in the SRA database, (3) how to analyze the data with our bioinformatics platform called T-BioInfo, (4) what conclusions people can infer from bioinformatics analysis of the project’s data.