“There is an enormous demand for people who can work effectively with health data.”
Central in the battle against today’s global health pandemic is an enormous, growing trove of data and the bioinformaticians who are working to make sense of it all.
“The bioinformatics breakthrough in this outbreak was the detailing of the biological sequence of the new coronavirus” says Janani Rangarajan, M.S., a statistical data analyst at the Azzur Group and Gilead Sciences. “The sequence is the starting point in developing drugs, diagnostic tools, and a vaccine for the dangerous virus.”
As chair of the UCSC Silicon Valley Extension Bioinformatics certificate program, Rangarajan has spearheaded the expansion of bioinformatics offerings to include related computer programming languages such as R and biopython, as well as next-generation sequencing tools that have revolutionized the way we conduct research today.
Week-Long Bioinformatics Webinar Series
Rangarajan introduced several of these new offerings to the general public in a recent week-long, free webinar course series—Bioinformatics for Beginners: Making Meaning from Biological Data with several Silicon Valley instructors: Paul Saunders, Ph.D., Laurynas Kalesinskas, Adam Lavertu, and Bibek Paudel, Ph.D.
“The series is meant to give people a taste of what it’s like to be in the field,” Rangarajan says.
Each live, online evening lecture highlighted cutting-edge bioinformatics tools used every day in the battles against disease. People interested in science or computer programming were invited to attend one or each of the one-hour classes, taught by Silicon Valley bioinformaticians. Topics included:
- Sequencing-related tools used in bioinformatics
- Linear regression
- Introduction to R programming
- Biopython and other Python tools for biology for preliminary analyses of genomic sequence, such as the SARS-CoV-2 genome
To view the lecture slides and recordings for all five sessions please see the below links.
“There is an enormous demand for people who can work effectively with health data,” Rangarajan says.
This year alone we are generating an estimated 2,314 exabytes (one exabyte is one quintillion bytes) of health information from things such as genomic sequencing, diagnostic equipment, wearable devices, public health records and virtual assistants.
Bioinformaticians are working in viral research where time is of the essence, in biopharma, and as mobile device innovators. They are building new tools to speed up the path to cures and vaccines.
“They’re really helping with handling huge data and making meaning out of it,” Rangarajan says. “We are able to do things now that have never been done before.”
New Tools for Discovery
New tools are coming into use all the time, such as the Genome Detective, a web-based, user-friendly software application that identifies the novel severe acute respiratory syndrome related coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) sequences isolated in China and around the world.
“It’s a tool that can accept up to 2,000 sequences per submission and the analysis of a whole genome sequence will take approximately one minute,” Rangarajan says. “It also tracks new viral mutations as the outbreak expands globally, which may help to accelerate the development of novel diagnostics, drugs and vaccines to stop the COVID-19 disease.”
The Bioinformatics for Beginners discussion series is an opportunity for people to see for themselves whether their interest in science can build into a rewarding, well-paying bioinformatics career.
“I hope more people decide they want to help change the world through data,” Rangarajan says.
Visit our website to learn more about the UCSC Silicon Valley Extension Bioinformatics certificate program.