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News Release| Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Minor; Cal State L.A.

June 28, 2011

Cal State L.A. to offer Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Minor

Students encouraged to take minor’s prerequisites now to prepare for fall 2012 launch

 Los Angeles, CA — Benefitting from the sequencing of the human genome in 2003 and the career opportunities it spawned, Cal State L.A. (CSULA) students who enroll in the new Bioinformatics and Computational Biology (BINF) Minor will gain the computer skills to help solve some of biological sciences’ most complex problems.

Launching in fall 2012, CSULA’s BINF minor will train students to create computer software programs that analyze biological data and to familiarize them with pre-existing software programs and databases that analyze and store biological information.

The BINF minor is developed by Professor Jamil Momand, who teaches biochemistry in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and Associate Professor Valentino Crespi who teaches computer science in the Department of Computer Science.  The funds for developing the BINF minor came from the Center for Interdisciplinary Quantitative Analysis, which is an National Institutes of Health-funded program.

We put our heads together and said, ‘this is going to be a great opportunity for students.’ He [Crespi] did a survey of some computer science students to see what their interests were,” said Momand. “Partly based on the survey, we then modeled the minor after programs at a few other institutions, and put together a comprehensive model that was also achievable for science majors.”

At a cost of $2.3 billion, the first sequence human genome was expensive but greatly increased the attention on BINF, not just the work, but the prevalence of such data being easily uploaded to public computer servers. As a result, the cost of sequencing a human genome today is approximately $5,000, making it very affordable and increasing the chance that genome analysis will be a routine clinical procedure for years to come.

As written by Momand and Alison McCurdy in Concepts in Bioinformatics and Genomics, a manuscript currently under development, “In our time, and for the foreseeable future, biology data will be collected at an astounding rate. Whether the data is a new DNA sequence from an exotic animal, or a 3D-structure of a novel protein, the information is invariably stored in a database—some of which are accessible through the internet.”

 The passage continued, “There has been a steady development of software tools to analyze this data. For those who wish to perform research in life sciences, it is essential to be aware of the databases and software programs commonly used by scientists. The field that has emerged from this information explosion is called bioinformatics.”

Bioinformatics overlaps with a number of other interdisciplinary subjects including, but not limited to, systems biology, computational biology, and genomics.

The more specific goals of the BINF minor are for students to learn the ability to:

  • program software on a bioinformatics/computational biology project;
  • inculcate an understanding of biological questions that can be answered with bioinformatics;
  • perform basic statistical analyses and have familiarity of advanced statistical analyses associated with bioinformatics;
  • and design algorithms that can be useful for software development in the bioinformatics/computational biology field.

“Successful completion of the requirements for the Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Minor will provide students with a solid repertoire of basic skills and knowledge necessary for them to gain further experience or knowledge in the field,” said Momand. “We will assist our students in becoming competitive for careers in biotechnology and pharmaceutical sectors. In addition, the minor will likely make our mathematics, science, and engineering students more competitive for graduate programs in their respective major fields of study.”

There are 12 units of 400-level BINF courses (or approved substitutes) necessary to complete the minor.

Some of the industries students who earn a BINF minor will work in include pharmaceutical and biotechnology. They will also be doing research in such areas as molecular science, biochemistry, biology and the health sciences.

“This is an up-and-coming field with the advent of the sequencing of the human genome, and there is now a lot of interest in how it might help in medicine,” Momand said. “In the growing interest in bioinformatics, and even in their own field, earning this minor could definitely help them get a foothold in some industries.”

Click here to learn about the prerequisites (pages 9-12), required units and other information regarding the Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Minor.

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