You have lot of opportunities in this field.
Is the title of a ‘Software Superpower’ justified for India Inc? This question will be asked repeatedly year after year as India Inc continues to push its brand as the lowest priced destination. Industry analysts say that if it was Y2K earlier, it is Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) now. The recent Nasscom 2002 event too saw India’s IT majors going into overdrive on the BPO boom. While no one doubts the potential of the BPO boom for India, it is a fact that the country is a preferred destination because of its lower price. Sooner or later, nations like China or Philippines can compete on price and take away the market from India. While Nasscom is pushing the BPO opportunity aggressively, it has also identified several emerging sectors like bioinformatics, embedded technologies and multimedia content management, which could see India Inc moving away from its image of a low-cost supplier to a value-added service player.
But the fastest growing and most promising of these sectors is undoubtedly bioinformatics. For the uninformed, bioinformatics refers to the applications of IT in data analysis, mainly in the creation of extensive electronic databases on genomes and protein molecules, and in three-dimensional modelling of biomolecules and biologic systems. Though bioinformatics is still in a nascent stage in India, industry analysts are extremely gung-ho on its market potential. And the reasons behind this bullishness are based on simple market estimates.
Today, pharmaceutical and life sciences firms are increasingly placing emphasis on IT investments related to research, to gain competitive advantage by reducing time for drug discovery. Starting off with analysis of macromolecules, bioinformatics has advanced to a stage where it is playing an increasingly important role in the human genome project, drug discovery and prediction of protein structure and function. Computational analysis for interpretation of functions of genes and DNA sequences involves processing huge amounts of data that need to be analysed and interpreted for drug discovery. By the study of genes, pharmaceutical firms can determine the cause of various deformities, diseases and their remedies. Bioinformatics through the use of computer databases and algorithms speeds up and enhances biological research projects. A case in point is the human genome project, which is an effort to identify a mammoth 80,000 genes in Human DNA through the use of bioinformatics. Just imagine a group of scientists doing it manually!
No wonder, people trained in the field of bioinformatics are in great demand in countries like the US where leading pharmaceutical companies are competing aggressively with each other for developing cures for gene-based diseases. Undoubtedly, career opportunities for professionals trained in the field of bioinformatics are high, as pharmaceutical research and drug development is a high growth area. Agrees Prof Deepti Deobagkar, director, Bioinfo-rmatics Centre, University of Pune, “Bioinformatics is the convergence of two technological revolutions,
The upsurge in biological
data due to the advances in biotechnology, paralleled by the phenomenal growth in information technology. The CPU power of computers and the size of the GenBank (a genetic sequence database) have been doubling at the same rate. With the completion of sequencing of human genome and genomes of various plants and organisms, bioinformatics is well poised to take up the challenges of the post-genomic era and hence the need for well-trained human resource is greater. There is hence a huge demand for trained bioinformaticians in USA, Europe, Australia and India.” A Frost & Sullivan report estimated the US bioinformatics market to be worth US $ 1.4 billion in 2000 which is expected to grow to US $6.9 billion by the year 2007.
In India alone professionals trained in this field can expect to earn salaries upwards of Rs 2,00,000 per annum. A key indicator is seen by the fact that students who have completed the bioinformatics course at the Pune University have been lapped up by various Indian and multinational biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries, such as AstraZeneca Research Centre, Bangalore, GVK Biosciences, Hyderabad, DSQ Biotech, Bangalore and reputed research institutes like the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad and the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC), Pune.
Indian software companies hit hard by the US slowdown have been quick to spot this opportunity. For example, Satyam Computer Services is working in developing software for pharmaceutical research. It has already tied up with the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology for joint exploration of IT enabled services opportunities in bioinformatics. India’s largest exporter of software, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), has tied up with the Centre for DNMA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics in Hyderabad, for collaborative research in the areas of pattern recognition, clustering techniques and development of new techniques in genomics and proteomics. The Indian IT industry can address opportunities in the field of automated genome analysis, modelling of protein structures from primary sequences and software development for molecular modelling.
As bioinformatics involves implementation of software for creation, storage and analysis of vast amount of DNA sequence data, the professionals are required to have programming and database skills along with an in-depth knowledge of biology. Likewise, since drug development involves studying the behaviour of complex molecules and developing tools to find out their capabilities, a person with a background in chemistry could play a key role in drug development. Also eligible are computer scientists and software professionals who are well trained in database tools, since bioinformatics uses computer software tools for database creation, data management, data warehousing, data mining and data analysis.
Career opportunities for bioinformatics professionals include database design, database management and computational analysis. Typical skill sets required are strong knowledge of databases and operating systems like UNIX with programming skills like C, C++, Java or Perl. Almost all the institutes in India have formulated extremely detailed courses supported by good infrastructure for propagating bioinformatics as the next big career option. For example, the course conducted by the University of Pune includes an introduction to biological systems, mathematical and statistical techniques, database systems (Oracle & Developer 2000), biological databanks and sequence analysis, computer networking, biomolecular structure and dynamics, molecular modelling and simulations, HTML, C and Java programming, parallel computing, numerical methods and optimisation techniques, neuronal computing, graphics and visualisation.
Looking at the immense potential of the new sunrise sector, the Government of India has funded several institutes across India to carry out research and education in this field. Notable ones are the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, The Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, Bose Institute, Calcutta, Institute of Microbial Technology, Chandigarh, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad and the University of Pune. The most notable among these institutes is the University of Pune, which since its establishment in 1987 has played a key role in the promotion of bioinformatics activity in India. The primary function of the centre has been to provide up-to-date and accurate information in the area of biotechnology. Besides this, several software and pharmaceutical companies are conducting in-house courses for interested candidates.
But before India Inc hopes to cash in on the ‘Science of the future’ and exploit opportunities in the emerging field of bioinformatics, it faces a serious impediment with the lack of efficient manpower. Agrees Deobagkar, “The availability of well-trained human resource in bioinformatics is inadequate. There is an urgent need to train the next generation in a more formal, academic manner in the area of bioinformatics.” With an estimated shortage of one million professionals, the need for professionals trained in bioinformatics is undoubtedly high. And hopefully, this time around, India Inc will cash in on the opportunity and move up the value chain.
Short-term opportunities are available for fresh, talented B.E/B.Tech students/graduates in Computer Engineering to work along with a team of scientists in the exciting, high impact, inter-disciplinary area of genomics research at India's premier research institute CDFD.
In the recent past the World has witnessed a tremendous progress in Human Genome Project as well as genome projects of several other organisms. Complete genomic information is available on the world-wide-web for about hundred organisms and soon this will be available of many more organisms. The huge amount of information emerging out of these genome projects needs to be processed using computers so that it can optimally be utilized in many areas of biological research such as drug discovery and genetic engineering.
At CDFD computational genomic work is supported by its central bioinformatics facility constituted by latest powerful computers including Silicon Graphics and SUN machines and a network of PCs with internet and intranet facilities.
The candidates who wish to try their programming skills in the high impact area of genomics should be well versed with C, C++, Java, CORBA or Perl language. Duration of a typical short-term project is about six months extendable after review. During this period CDFD will provide hostel accommodation as well as a stipend for the candidates.
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Answered By: Avanive A - 5/29/2008