If you took 150 hefty, old-school telephone books and piled them up into a very tall stack, you might just have enough room to store our genomic information in a non-digital format.
Then you’d want to get really comfortable, as it would take you more than a day to read only a single page of one of these books.
“Our genetic information is encoded mainly in the biochemical sequence of DNA and forms our 3-billion-base-long genome,” says Dr. Athanasios Zovoilis, a professor in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry and a member of the Southern Alberta Genome Sciences Centre, the Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience and the Alberta RNA Research and Training Institute at the University of Lethbridge.
“Today, a new generation of machines called sequencers, which are the size of a smart phone, can read all of these pages in a matter of hours. Bioinformatics enables us to analyze this information.”
It was the sheer volume of that biological information – created by rapid developments in genomics and other molecular biology technologies – that prompted biologists to create software and computational methods to analyze and interpret data to derive meaningful conclusions about how cells, organisms or specific populations function.
“Bioinformatics was born out of necessity as data sets derived from biological experiments became increasingly large and complex,” says Zovoilis.
Now a graduate micro-credential at ULethbridge, the graduate certificate program aims to demystify bioinformatics and help students harness the power of analysis and interpretation for a wide range of applications, combining computer programming, data analysis and biology.
New Certificate, New Opportunities
The Graduate Certificate in Bioinformatics, co-designed by Zovoilis and his colleague Dr. Angeliki Pantazi, focuses on two areas in which bioinformatics play an increasingly important role: health and agriculture.
Indeed, bioinformatics has transformed medical research, acting as a driving force behind precision medicine, a new concept in health care. In agriculture, bioinformatics is emerging as a powerful force for tackling everything from food production to natural resources management.
“Before the era of bioinformatics, biological research focused on individual molecules or genes; our ability to study how all cellular components jointly function was limited,” says Pantazi.
“With the arrival of new large-scale laboratory techniques, our genetic material – as well as a broad range of other biomolecules – could finally be studied in a holistic manner. Bioinformatics became the tool for such studies and have advanced and accelerated scientific progress in an unprecedented way.”
Students interested in taking the graduate certificate should have an academic background in either life sciences, mathematics, computer sciences or engineering, while the collaborative nature of bioinformatics means written and oral communication skills are a must.
“Regardless of their background, students should be ready to leave their comfort zone as we’ll help them build interdisciplinary skills that combine biology and computational/statistics skills,” Pantazi says.
“This certificate is the beginning of a lifelong learning process and will help students identify ‘the road less travelled’ that will make them more competitive and successful.”
Graduate Certificate in Bioinformatics at a glance:
- Application deadline: December 1
- Intake: Spring semester
- Duration: Six-months
- Coursework (no thesis)
- Practicum included: No
- Supervisor required: No
- Delivery: In-person on the main (Lethbridge) campus