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Bioinformatics Specialists

History

Biological/bioinformatic computer databases were first used in the years following the creation of the first protein sequence (that of bovine insulin) in 1951. The databases were rudimentary, but allowed scientists to collect information in one location for study. 

Many consider Dr. Margaret Oakley Dayhoff to be the founder of the field of bioinformatics. In the 1960s, she pioneered the application of computational methods to the field of biochemistry and helped create cutting-edge databases of molecular sequences.

The field of bioinformatics experienced strong growth in 1977, when the first DNA-based genome (bacteriophage phi X 174) was sequenced. In the following years, genes of other organisms were sequenced. An immense amount of information was collected in computer databases, and scientists had to learn how to effectively manage and study the data. Molecular biologists with backgrounds in computer science began teaching themselves how to work with the data. These professionals eventually became known as computational biologists or bioinformatics specialists.

Over the past few decades, there has been exceptional growth in the amount of biological information that has been generated by scientists and medical researchers—especially as a result of the completion of the Human Genome Project (which mapped approximately 30,000 human genes) in 2001.

Major organizations in the field include the International Society for Computational Biology (which was founded in 1997) and The Bioinformatics Organization (1998). In 1988, the National Center for Biotechnology Information was founded as a division of the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health. According to its Web site, its mission is to “develop new information technologies to aid in the understanding of fundamental molecular and genetic processes that control health and disease.”

Today, the field of bioinformatics is growing quickly and offers many interesting career options for those interested in both biology and computer science.