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Biology, Computers Collide in High-Demand Field

Dr. Shivas AminWith the way computers have changed over a generation, Dr. Shivas Amin says most students know how to use computers for fun like Facebook and games, but they don’t know how to use computers for work.

Through classes in bioinformatics—a fast-growing and newly emerged field in the life sciences—students study biology, mathematics and computer science.

Amin, an assistant professor, calls bioinformatics a “collision of biology and computers.” Students learn how to use computers to do sequence alignments or protein structural analysis, to prepare for high-demand jobs analyzing genome and proteome projects.

“It’s a neat field for students, because in most research situations, they have to learn many difficult techniques before they can make any scientific contribution; but in bioinformatics, you’re working with your own computer so there are less technical barriers to research,” Amin said.

Students Create Their Own Research Questions

Amin likes seeing students develop their own questions to study, a process he also applies to the Intro to Biology classes he teaches, where students choose their lab research.

“I let them follow their passion,” he said. “A lot of professors will lecture and make the students work on a system they’ve done. In the Bioinformatics class, students choose their own area of biology and develop a bioinformatics question using that area of interest. They also get the benefit of tackling individual problems themselves, which enhances critical thinking and problem solving skills.”

Amin invites other professors to see the students’ work.

“The other professors love to come,” he said. “They like to see their students create. It’s part of the community atmosphere we have here in the biology department.”

Amin, who earned a Bachelor of Science in genetics and a doctorate in developmental biology, became interested in bioinformatics because he wanted to generate research results faster.

“Bioinformatics is definitely fun, you get to create right from the start,” he said. “You don’t have to learn how to use fancy equipment. Using a couple programs, you can immediately start analyzing data.”

Bioinformatics Skills are Transferable

Amin said Bioinformatics skills are in high demand.

“At this point bioinformatics is steadily taking over everything we do,” Amin said. “I imagine in 20-30 years, a person of bioinformatics expertise is going to be necessary in every research lab.”

As students learn computer programming in the bioinformatics courses, the skills are also transferrable to other industries, including engineering, mathematics, computer science, finance and business—all fields looking for people who can computer program.

Amin said St. Thomas is a great place to study bioinformatics, because the school is nearby the Texas Medical Center with access to related jobs. Plus, there are a lot of places to obtain data.

“If you love computers, biology, math and science, this is the major for you,” Amin said. “If you’re really interested in being at the forefront in technology, this is where you want to be.”

For more information about bioinformatics, contact Dr. Shivas Amin at 713-942-5941 or