Developing Bioinformatics Core Competencies for Agricultural Biotechnology

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Plant and Animal Genomics Meeting, San Diego, CA Jan. 2016


Todd M. Smith [1,2], Sandra Porter [1,2], Linnea Fletcher [2,3]

1. Digital World Biology (DWB), 2. Bio-Link, 3. Austin Community College (ACC)

Students graduating from college in the 21st century need to be skilled in using a computer. Through several experiences including Austin Community College’s (ACC’s) interactions with industry, DWB’s experience, and combined participation in efforts such as the Network for Integrating Bioinformatics into Life Sciences Education (NIBLSE), it is clear students need to be more aware of how computing is used in the life sciences and the role that bioinformatics plays in modern biology and biotechnology research. As biotechnology becomes increasingly data driven, the jobs that employers seek to fill will have increasing demands for candidates with strong computing skills.

Less clear is what the specific job descriptions will look like and how they will segment in terms of biological knowledge vs. specialty software skills in custom programming, data analysis, and information architecture. This is especially true in agricultural biotechnology where the diversity of organisms and applications such as marker assisted breeding and genetic engineering, with tools like CRISPER/Cas9 and related systems, are high. Further, as studies move from single organisms to populations of organisms as ecosystems, the general knowledge of plant and animal molecular biology must include systems biology and an understanding of the contribution that microbial communities make to the organism.

Our preliminary assessments indicate that core competencies in bioinformatics need to be defined. When articulated into certificate programs they can validate a student’s understanding and proficiency with biology, computers, software, and bioinformatics and bring value for both students and their future employers. However, designing a program that has the right balance between biology, general computer skill, and specific bioinformatics expertise is an ongoing process and requires input from both academia and industry. 

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