CGS in the News
"Where Life Becomes Numbers and Numbers Come to Life"
The term bioinformatics did not exist fifteen years ago, and although roots of this new field of biomedical science were clearly present in various areas of biology, computer science, biomathematical modeling, and systems analysis, interdisciplinary efforts merging these areas were rudimentary and often considered by biologists with suspicion. Over the past decade, bioinformatics has effected a change in biological thinking and experimentation that is unprecedented in the biosciences and may even be more radical and rapid than the development of quantum physics at the beginning of the 20th century. It has become close to impossible to find a modern issue of Science or Nature that would not in some form discuss bioinformatics. Accompanying this enormous interest in academic science is a blossoming job market for individuals with strong training in both biology and computer science, mathematics and statistics.
While bioinformatics has moved to a well-noted position in the biomedical sciences, it constitutes only the beginning of a trend toward mathematical quantitation and the consideration of biological phenomena as the manifestation of complex dynamical systems. Presently, methods of sequence alignment, expression arraying, and clustering of genes dominate bioinformatics, but once standards for these tasks have been established and solidified, questions of gene function and interactions among genes, proteins, lipids, and other metabolites will move to the forefront. Forward-looking scientists have been recognizing this trend for some while and begun to champion the field of systems biology, which deals with the integration of detailed information into large biological networks.
Bioinformatics at MUSC spans a broad range of activities in systems biology, from algorithm development for basic biological research problems to applications of clinical import. Graduate students and post-doctoral fellows are involved in these endeavors, and the main theme of their education and training is "tool making." These tools consist of software for particular research problems that originate in the biological or clinical departments, of mathematical models for specific phenomena, or of theoretical advancements that target open questions in systems biology. Special foci are currently microarray analysis, clustering, transcription factor networks, proteomics, metabolic pathway analysis, and general techniques for biomedical data mining and storage, machine learning, and mathematical modeling.
Because bioinformatics is interdisciplinary and, on one hand, develops new methods of analysis and theory and on the other hand applies these methods to open questions in molecular biology and medicine, students need to have a strong interest and develop solid expertise in a biological subject area as well as in computation, mathematics, and statistics. MUSC's graduate program in bioinformatics is designed to facilitate mastering these dual needs. It is geared toward biologists and biochemists who are intrigued by mathematics and computation, and toward computer scientists, engineers, and mathematicians who would like to apply their knowledge to fascinating and challenging problems in modern biology and medicine. The course of study is designed such that individuals from both groups will complement their background in one area with new expertise in the other. Numerous research topics are available for students to advance theory or to focus on particular applications.