The PG programmes and modular courses offered by the Centre of Excellence in Bioinformatics, Pondicherry University, seek to turn out well-trained persons in bioinformatics.

Bioinformatics has been gaining increasing significance with growing focus on research in areas of genomics, proteomics, drug discovery and development, structural biology and many more related subjects over the years. The need of the hour — well-trained persons in bioinformatics from institutions imparting quality training.

P.P. Mathur, coordinator, Centre of Excellence in Bioinformatics at the Pondicherry University, describes bioinformatics as an interface of physics, chemistry and biology. “India was one of the first countries to start bioinformatics in the late 1980s. Bioinformatics has been evolving over the years and even the basic applications of the subject have expanded. No biologist can survive without bioinformatics,” he explains.

The centre is offering M.Sc. Bioinformatics and Ph.D. in Bioinformatics, besides modular courses. The M.Sc. course, with an intake of 31 students, is being offered under the University Grants Commission’s scheme of Innovative Programme-Teaching and Research in Interdisciplinary and Emerging Areas. Students who have completed undergraduation in any science subject are eligible to join the course.

Courses in bioinformatics include cell and molecular biology, physics and chemistry for biologists, data structures and programming concepts, genomics and proteomics, biophysical chemistry, statistics for biologists, structural biology, molecular modelling and drug design and applications of bioinformatics.

For M.R.N. Murthy, professor of Molecular Biophysics Unit, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, bioinformatics not only reveals new potential in biology but also provides the leads. “Every biological research costs money. Bioinformatics can reveal which way is more likely to succeed by giving us some leads. It has become extremely important for industries especially pharmaceuticals for drug discovery,” he elaborates.

In fact, courses in bioinformatics are gaining overwhelming response from students. For instance, the course at the university has been attracting students from across the country, Professor Mathur notes.

Going a step further, Pondicherry University along with Anna University and Madurai Kamaraj University will jointly offer a regular M.Sc. programme in Computational Biology from next year.

The Department of Biotechnology has sanctioned funds for the course which will have video-conferencing facility, and student selection will be on all India basis, says Professor Mathur.

Modular courses

The centre has also been offering modular courses for those employed in the industries and research scholars such as in drug designing and computer applications in bioinformatics. Each modular course will provide a certificate to the candidate, while a postgraduate diploma will be awarded to those completing all four modular courses.

Interestingly, many of the students aim at pursuing research in the field, he says. Bioinformatics has various applications in genomics, drug design and development, pharmacogenomics, proteomics and structural biology. Not all drugs are effective in all persons. So the concept of personalised drugs comes in and bioinformatics plays a vital role in addressing such issues of drug design and development according to genetic structures of persons.

Many foreign companies outsource jobs and there are plenty of opportunities for research and employment, experts note.

Professor Murthy adds with a caution: “The quality of training is very important. There are several educational institutions offering the course and the quality of training varies from one institute to another. There is a very large number of extremely poor graduates. Well-trained persons will find good opportunities in bioinformatics.”

In a bid to emphasise quality, the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India, is in the process of standardising the teaching of bioinformatics. It is conducting a national-level examination — Bioinformatics National Certification examination, testing the degree of theoretical and practical knowledge of students. Those who emerge successful in the exam would receive fellowship and opportunities to conduct research in the country, says Professor Mathur.