What do bioinformaticians do

What they study, how much they earn and what career prospects they have

Bioinformatics is a field of knowledge in which computer methods and information technologies for data analysis are used to interpret biological phenomena associated with biomolecules. The most popular areas of bioinformatics are the interpretation of nucleic acid and protein sequences, as well as modeling the bulk structure of biomolecules and their interactions with each other, for example, in the development of drugs.

Protein quaternary structure (Source: https://pdb101.rcsb.org/motm/228)

Protein quaternary structure (Source: https://pdb101.rcsb.org/motm/228)

Some bioinformaticians are focused on a specific biological problem, while others are engaged in a more general mission of developing new algorithms. At the same time, in order to succeed in this science, a good specialist must, at a minimum, be oriented in a number of disciplines:

  • know the basics of biology: molecular and cellular biology, genomics and genetic engineering methods;

  • chemistry and biochemistry;

  • basic statistics;

  • and at least one programming language: R or Python.

(Source: http://blog.fejes.ca/?p=2418)

(Source: http://blog.fejes.ca/?p=2418)

Such a set of studied disciplines is rarely found within the framework of one educational program: there are few places where bioinformaticians are trained in Russia. Among them, for example, the Faculty of Bioengineering and Bioinformatics of Moscow State University, master’s programs of the Faculty of Biology of Moscow State University and the Institute of Bioinformatics.

Most often, two categories of people fall into bioinformatics: either with a biological education, or with an education in programming or mathematics. Each category has its own advantages: biologists are generally able to interpret data more meaningfully based on a complex vision of the problem. Programmers, in turn, write code more efficiently, as a result, using more complex algorithms and data analysis methods.

People from both categories often come to bioinformatics not immediately after graduating, but after several years of work in their field. At the same time, such experience sometimes helps them in mastering a new profession. Therefore, we can safely say that you can start the transition to bioinformatics at any age.

In addition to the knowledge and skills already mentioned, a future bioinformatician needs to have a craving for learning new things, perseverance and patience in order to keep up with rapidly developing technologies. An important quality for this profession is multitasking, because one bioinformatician can have several projects at the same time. The ability to work independently and communication skills will also be useful.

Pros and cons of working as a bioinformatician

The benefits of bioinformatics are as follows:

  • constant development in a rapidly changing field of knowledge;

  • developing technologies at the forefront of science;

  • relatively high salaries;

  • remote work and flexible schedule.

In addition, the existence of a huge number of databases with various biological data should be attributed to the pluses. Therefore, it is not necessary for bioinformaticians to have their own source of data for analysis, and there are entire scientific groups consisting only of bioinformaticians.

Consider also the disadvantages of working as a bioinformatician. The most obvious ones are sedentary work that requires access to large computing resources: a regular laptop is most likely not enough. Another point is that many bioinformatics programs and tools are not supported by developers and stop working shortly after publication, and it is often necessary to test several programs for one task.

It happens that all the available tools are not suitable, then you need to either understand someone else’s code in order to fix something, or write your own. Most programs and tools don’t have good documentation, which can make it hard to understand what they do or how to use them. These issues can take a long time to resolve. Another subtle point: sometimes it is difficult to publish a bioinformatics article in a good journal, as experimental confirmation of the conclusions is required.

Where do bioinformaticians go to work and how much do they earn

If you want to work as a bioinformatician and have acquired the basic skills for this, then you need to find a job. Most job seekers pay attention to wages.

Blastim has already published a 2021 biotech salary review. According to the collected data, the median salary of a bioinformatician was about 100 thousand rubles. per month, and a senior bioinformatician – about 120 thousand rubles. before taxes. As of February 2023, in vacancies for a bioinformatics position in Russia, there is a salary from 60 to 150-200 thousand rubles. per month, and in the US and Europe they offer from $3,000 to $12,500 per month before taxes.

When choosing an employer, applicants are interested not only in wages, but also in the place of work itself. Bioinformatics is in demand in scientific institutes, medical centers, pharmacological and biotechnology companies. Their work has great potential both for basic science and for improving the quality of life of people through the diagnosis and treatment of diseases.

World market: trends and prospects

The global bioinformatics market in 2023 amounted to more than $14.5 billion with an annual growth rate of 12.7%. It is expected to grow to $24 billion in 2027.

The main drivers of growth include the extensive use of bioinformatics in various branches of biology, the reduction in the cost of sequencing and the increase in data volume. Other factors are the growth in demand for protein and nucleic acid sequencing, the increasing contributions from government and private organizations that are driving the development of genomics and proteomics, and the growing amount of research in molecular genetics and drug development. At the same time, the lack of qualified specialists and the instability of the processes of the world economy in recent years are considered barriers to market development.

Source: https://www.acumenresearchandconsulting.com/bioinformatics-market

Source: https://www.acumenresearchandconsulting.com/bioinformatics-market

Consider the key trends in bioinformatics for 2023 highlighted by a major bioinformatics company Fios Genomics:

  • One trend will be the continued development of single cell sequencing technologies. Experts predict an increase in the amount of analyzed existing data available in open databases and repositories.

  • Analysis of protein sequencing at the single molecule level is a technique that is just beginning to develop, and 2023 could be the year of its heyday. Two specific technologies are worth paying attention to: fluorosequencing and protein sequencing on semiconductor devices.

  • In 2023, OpenAI’s ChatGPT is expected to grow in popularity in bioinformatics. This chatbot can help with writing and debugging code, making it a potentially useful tool. However, it is still unclear whether ChatGPT will become an important part of the bioinformatics toolkit or whether its popularity will fade over time. Blastim has already written about attempts to apply ChatGPT to bioinformatics problems.

  • Data growth will also be a key challenge for bioinformaticians as the amount of information available for research grows every day. In 2023, we are likely to witness the development of new tools and technologies for managing, storing and analyzing large amounts of data. The use of AI, machine learning and high performance computing will combine biological information from many sources for more accurate testing and simulation.

Bioinformatics is a rapidly growing science that is gaining more and more popularity due to technological advances and growing interest in biological data. In addition, bioinformatics is experiencing a “staff shortage”, so if you decide to devote time to understanding this profession, it’s safe to say that your efforts will pay off. Specialists in this field of knowledge will be in demand for decades to come.

The article was prepared by Ilya Gridnev especially for Blastim

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