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Bioinformatics Specialists

The Job

Bioinformatics is used to develop new ways to study, diagnose, and treat genetic diseases such as muscular dystrophy, family-linked cancers, and Huntington’s disease. It is also used to help reduce the time it takes to develop new drugs (such as those that fight AIDS) and in many other medical applications. Bioinformatics specialists work closely with software developers, hardware engineers, and molecular biologists to develop new genome analysis systems.

To conduct research, bioinformatics specialists design computer databases and develop complicated mathematical formulas called algorithms to gather and analyze biological and biochemical data such as nucleotide and amino acid sequences, protein structures, and protein domains. These algorithms allow them to identify major risk factors for cancer, lung disease, and heart disease. They can also be used to determine the role environmental factors such as tobacco smoke or pollutants have on overall human health. 

Bioinformatics specialists may be scientists themselves, or they may have more computer-oriented backgrounds and receive requests for assistance from scientists who need technological tools to analyze data.

In addition to developing algorithms and studying data, bioinformatics specialists have other duties. They publish new bioinformatics results in scientific journals or present them at industry conferences; manage public and private databases to ensure that they are accurate and functioning correctly; conduct scientific presentations to coworkers, government officials, and potential financial donors; prepare reports for managers regarding their findings; and manage staff such as bioinformatics technicians. They also stay up to date regarding current hardware and software developments by attending seminars, workshops, and conferences, and by taking Web-based courses.