At the intersection of biology and programming

“Bioinformatics has become its own field and a great area of research.”

Since the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003 and advances in genomics, biologists are burdened with huge amounts of data generated every day.

It’s just the kind of data-heavy burden that excites a bioinformatician like Janani Rangarajan who thrives at the intersection of technology and biology.

“It combines biology and computers—everything that I love and everything that I look forward to,” says Rangarajan. “Bioinformatics has tremendous potential in the drug discovery process and to aid in the delivery of personalized medicine.”

A Diverse Biotech Career

Rangarajan, an online instructor at UCSC Silicon Valley Extension and the new chair of the Bioinformatics certificate program, has worked as a bioinformatics analyst at the USC Norris Cancer Center, as a statistical analyst and programmer for Northwestern University and as a researcher and data analyst at The Scripps Research Institute, where she designed and produced custom DNA, peptide and carbohydrate arrays. She has explored the relationship of hyperglycemia and adverse pregnancy outcomes, cancer in multi-ethnic cohorts, and the flu virus.

“It’s been very challenging and extremely exciting,” she says.

The Impact of Big Data

Bioinformatics used to be an aid for biotechnology and life sciences research, but today, the global bioinformatics market is expected to reach $26.33 billion by 2026.

“Bioinformatics has become its own field and a great area of research,” Rangarajan says.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts a 16 percent increase in computer and information research scientists jobs (which includes bioinformaticians) between 2018 and 2028.

“A huge explosion of bioinformatics careers is fueled by the big data boom,” Rangarajan says. Bioinformatics professionals rely on data from millions of people to come up with significant outcomes and conclusions. “It translates to a high demand for talented, skilled, and experienced professionals at the crossroads of biology, statistics, and computer science.”

The exciting part about this field for bioinformaticians like Rangarajan, is that the leveraging of computation methods, such as mathematical modeling, statistics, programming, simulation studies, and analytical methods, to analyze large sets of biological data and come up with significant conclusions. The ultimate goal is to develop more personalized medicine that can actually make a real difference in human lives.

“In this field you can go to that level of helping people with rare genetic diseases.”

Expanded Bioinformatics Offerings

At UCSC Extension, Rangarajan is spearheading an effort to expand the Bioinformatics course offerings, design new courses for next-gen sequence analysis and add more hands-on training with huge data. New electives to the Bioinformatics certificate include:

One of the perks of working in the industry is that many bioinformatics jobs can be performed remotely, which is reflected in how the program is being restructured.

Top 5 Bioinformatics Skills

A certificate in bioinformatics is a stepping stone to the future, Rangarajan says.

“It gives you a broad overview of the field and opportunities to get your foot in the field.”

Rangarajan cites five top skills in demand for bioinformatics professionals:

  • Experience working with huge sets of data
  • Programming expertise in Python and R
  • A strong understanding of statistics
  • Knowledge of current databases
  • Knowledge of molecular biology, genetics, and genomics

“For me, each job has been different. I have had to go in and immerse myself and learn. Companies look at your education. If you have the basic knowledge, they’re able to train and shape and mold you to whatever they want. The learning process is quick if you have the basic knowledge.”

 

 Upcoming Bioinformatics Courses

Rangarajan teaches Bioinformatics Tools, Databases and Methods and DNA Microarrays: Principles, Applications and Data Analysis. Visit our website to learn more about upcoming bioinformatics courses and the Bioinformatics certificate program

You can contact the instructor by messaging her on LinkedIn or contact Student Services for information about the program: extension@ucsc.edu or (408)-861-3860.

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