The transforming world of biological sciences

In the recent years, biological sciences have witnessed a radical transformation in the research and development activities. First and foremost, biological sciences have assumed a multidisciplinary nature. Biology has become a quantitative science rather than a qualitative science that it used to be until a few decades ago. Just as the span of biology research today encompasses a vast range from macro to micro levels, the biological data also has reached the “Big” data level, conferring the status of “Data Science” to this traditionally “qualitative” field. In the era of such overwhelming and exciting changes, Bioinformatics, which offers a computational and informatics dimension to research in modern biology has achieved a central place. There are hardly any areas of biological research and technology where computational biology and bioinformatics are not used.

Bioinformatics as a discipline

Bioinformatics has emerged as a full-fledged science and stands on the four pillars of Biology, Mathematics, Statistics and computer science / informatics. Biological data of various types that continues to be churned out from experiments can be compiled, archived (stored) and distributed using the informatics approaches. This data is processed, modelled and analysed with the help of mathematical algorithms and statistical techniques. This ability of using the data to model the biological and natural phenomena at levels ranging from atoms to molecules, cells, tissues, organ systems, organisms, populations and eco-systems opens up new horizons for discoveries and knowledge generation through analytical and predictive approaches. Such computational models, discoveries and the knowledge generated then serve as inputs to further experimentation and thereby next level of discovery and knowledge generation. Bioinformatics thus contributes to completion of the cycle; from experiments-to-data, information, knowledge and back to more profound experiments and knowledge generation.

The field of Bioinformatics has two major aspects. One deals with the development of bioinformatics products/resources while the other encompasses applications of the products/resources by users. Biological databases, predictive and modeling algorithms, data processing tools, computational methods and web-servers based on the algorithms etc. are the major products/resources in Bioinformatics. While these are in the realm of core research and developmental work, the second equally significant aspect covers the use and applications of these resources to biological systems. A Bioinformatician thus may play a role of developer and/or user of bioinformatics. Many biologists or other scientists working on biological systems who use the resources for their studies are also the users of bioinformatics.

Bioinformatics Centre, SPPU: Pioneer in Bioinformatics Education

The importance of this crown field in biology was realized at an early stage in India and formal training courses were launched with an objective of developing a trained human resource in Bioinformatics. The initiative in the training programs was supported by the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India through its BTISNET program. Bioinformatics Centre at the then University of Pune (now Savitribai Phule Pune University, SPPU) was a pioneer in launching bioinformatics education programs. Beginning with workshops and short term training courses in the in late 1980s, the Centre became one of the first five in India to initiate the one-year Advanced Diploma in Bioinformatics (ADB) under the realm of BTISNet in 1997. The two-year M. Sc. Bioinformatics program was instituted in 2002.

Bioinformatics Education @ Bioinformatics Centre, SPPU

Right from the beginning, the M. Sc. Bioinformatics program at the Bioinformatics Centre, SPPU has been well received by the student community and is ranked very high in the country. In the M. Sc. Bioinformatics program, an extensive training is provided to the students in core biological sciences, computer basics, information technology, computer programming, mathematics and statistics and last but not the least, various core areas of Bioinformatics such as biological databases, sequence- and structure-based methods, genomics, proteomics, metabolic engineering, immunoinformatics, phylogenomics, molecular modeling and simulations, drug design etc. The courses are delivered through classroom teaching and extensive hands-on training modes. There is a major component of research project which gives the students a basic training in research methodology too.

The highly qualified in-house faculty and scientists from various national institutes who contribute to teaching as visiting faculty ensure a rich teaching-learning experience for the students of the M. Sc. Bioinformatics. The M. Sc. students get benefitted by the knowledge and experience of the faculty members at the Centre, who are active researchers and hence share the latest developments in the field with the students. Students also get an opportunity to interact and learn from eminent experts from various institutes who visit the Centre.

Placements and Alumni

The alumni of the Centre are spread in many countries and are performing very well as industry professionals, scientists, academicians and entrepreneurs. Many of them have achieved distinction in their own field of research and development. The institutions where the alumni have been working include eminent ones such as National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS, Bangalore), National Chemical Laboratory (Pune), Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology (Hyderabad), National Center for Cell Sciences (Pune), University of Ohio, Institute of Molecular Biology, Mainz (Germany), Helsinki University (Finland), Macau University, Baylor College of Medicine, Georgia Tech., University of Illinois, Keck Graduate Inst, Weizzman Inst. of Science (Israel), etc. Several alumni are placed in companies such as BioNivid (Bangalore), Persistent Systems Private Ltd. (Pune), Infosys, SAS, C-DAC, DuPont (Hyderabad), Cognizant, (Pune), Strand Life Science (Bangalore), Ocimum Biosolutions (Hyderabad), Avesthagen Biosciences (Bangalore) to name a few. It is also noteworthy that some of our alumni have become successful entrepreneurs too.

Who should join M. Sc. Bioinformatics program? Why?

The M. Sc. Bioinformatics program at Bioinformatics Centre SPPU, offers an opportunity to explore a new, exciting, happening field of science to the students having bachelors’ degree. The multidisciplinary nature of Bioinformatics makes this opportunity equally interesting and open not only for the students from biological or biomedical sciences but also for those from mathematics, statistics, physical & chemical sciences as well as computer science. After accomplishing the masters’ degree in Bioinformatics, several career opportunities open up for the students, in R&D institutions, academia and industry. We, at the Centre, have witnessed a large number of such exemplary careers of our alumni which have flourished on the basis of the foundations, knowledge and skills attained during our M. Sc. Bioinformatics program.