New degree first of kind in state

Carissa Parks

With technology advancing every day along with medical breakthroughs, the study of genetic makeup is has it place in society.

The Human Genome Project began approximately 13 years ago. Like-minded scientists studied, analyzed and recorded the DNA sequences from humans, animals, plants and other organisms.

Although the project itself is completed, the data collected will take years to analyze, providing several career opportunities for students interested in studying and recording all the data that has been collected.

Missouri Southern saw this as an opportunity and is the first university in the state to offer a bachelor’s degree specifically for such an interest. Bioinformatics is a new career field that unites biology and computer information science and applies it to the study of DNA.

“It’s the use of computer science methodologies to analyze the Genome project,” said Dr. Jack Oakes, professor and department head of computer information science.

Because of the difficulty of the program, it is slowly gaining interest.

“It’s a difficult major to market because it being heavily involved in mathematics, computers and science makes this a limited type of program to sell, so it’s not for everyone,” said Dr. Gerald Schlink, professor of biology.

For years, biologists have relied on scientists with computational skills to write the programs for analysis and problem solving. With bioinformatics, the two sciences are applied together, expanding job opportunities and allowing students more diverse career options.

“Our program basically tries to get students where they learn programming skills and applying that to the biology field,” Schlink said.

This degree opens up careers not only in biology and CIS, but also includes jobs in agriculture, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

Even with modern day technology and medicine, people still have to be guinea pigs to test certain medications. Schlink said this field is someday going to eliminate the trials and errors of testing certain meds by looking at someone’s genetic makeup and determining whether or not the medication will work, or if the person will have an allergic reaction.

Bioinformatics is also about understanding genetic makeup of humans in hopes of diagnosing, treating, or completely preventing genetic diseases in the future.

The Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce and Southern are working together to bring a biotechnology company to the city within the next few years. This will give bioinformatics majors the option of relocating or staying close to home.

“The Chamber of Commerce is providing an incubator, a building that allows companies to move or extend its business to different cities without the cost of constructing a new building,” Schlink said.

Not only will this provide for the students, but it will provide for the community as well.

For more information on bioinformatics, please contact Schlink at 625-9764 or e-mail at [email protected] or Oakes at 625-9683 or e-mail at [email protected]