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BioNet Alberta: Training bioinformaticians today for a better future tomorrow

Bioinformatics is an interdisciplinary field that brings together biology and computer science to acquire, store, retrieve, organize, analyze, and interpret biological data. With advances in science and technology and the growing generation of data, the global need for data analyses must be met. Bioinformatics and computational biology (B/CB) use data to solve real world problems from human health to agri-food to climate change. Personnel trained in B/CB are a vital component of data interpretation and analyses. However, many life sciences students complete their degrees without the necessary skills to tackle the data being generated. To meet this need, BioNet Alberta together with the University of Lethbridge, launched the Graduate Certificate in Bioinformatics, a first of its kind in Western Canada.
 
 
BioNet Alberta is based at University of Lethbridge at the Southern Alberta Genomics Sciences centre with nodes located at the University of Calgary and University of Alberta. It was established by Genome Alberta and Genome Canada to ensure that Alberta is armed with the software and technical expertise to analyze data generated by the booming life sciences community.
 
BioNet Alberta’s mandate encompasses four major areas:
1.Connecting groups across Alberta to promote and foster collaborative opportunities
2.Support the development of in-demand B/CB tools and technologies
3.Coordinate the advancement of provincial B/CB infrastructure and resources by acting as an information hub
4.Provide skill development opportunities for the next generation of Alberta researchers
 
By creating the Graduate Certificate in Bioinformatics, BioNet Alberta is on track to tackle the emerging need for trained personnel. Eric Merzetti, the BioNet Alberta Program Manager highlights the importance of training programs in B/CB, “With a significant increase in the capacity to generate data, a paradigm shift has occurred in biological research from a field focused on generating data to a field focused on interpreting and characterising the data that not only already exists but is continually generated at an unprecedented pace. Albertan researchers possess valuable experience and have invested significant amounts of time and money into these next generation sequencing platforms to seek answers to questions in diverse fields from human health, livestock viability, crop sustainability and antimicrobial resistance. Each of these fields requires bioinformaticians to understand and analyse the vast data generated in these fields and this certificate program will provide an annual influx of highly qualified personnel in this field to fill current and future needs by the Alberta research sphere.
 
The Graduate Certificate in Bioinformatics at the University of Lethbridge is a six-month part-time program consisting of four courses: Essentials of Bioinformatics, Practical Bioinformatics, Advanced Bioinformatics, and a fourth elective. Intake occurs in the Spring and courses run from January-June. The program is intended for life sciences graduates and professionals with no or limited computational experience or computer scientists with no biological background who want to expand their knowledge in the growing field of bioinformatics. Knowledge in B/CB techniques are a valuable skillset that will distinguish these graduates from others in the workforce. This training will provide hands-on learning which will prepare the graduates with the tools they need to solve problems that will accelerate research across various life science industries. The Graduate Certificate in Bioinformatics will enhance the talent pool in Alberta making trainees more attractive in the job market.
 
The certificate program was created under the leadership of Dr. Athan Zovoilis, an Associate Professor in Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Lethbridge and a Canada Research Chair in RNA Bioinformatics and Genomics. “The Graduate Certificate in Bioinformatics at the University of Lethbridge aims to teach students basic skills in the analysis and interpretation of big data in biological sciences. The program accepts students with a background in life or computer sciences and has been designed to be practical rather than theoretical and tailored to the immediate needs of any scientist starting with basic bioinformatics analysis. We expose students to hands-on work in real projects supervised by experts in the fields of medicine and agriculture and gain valuable domain expertise.
 
Danisa Bescucci, a student enrolled in the program who also works as a Research Associate at Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, mentioned she applied to the program to expand on the bioinformatics skills obtained during her Master’s program, “During this time, I had my first experience with next generation sequencing analysis, and I have been performing this analysis for a while. However, the more I worked with it, the more I felt I needed to learn about it. When I heard about the Bioinformatics Certificate, I thought that the program would be a perfect opportunity to expand my knowledge in this matter, giving me more confidence when performing analysis.
 
Diana Wilches Correal a research technician whose work focuses on insects and their relationship with bacteria explains why she signed up for the certificate program, “I am excited to gain the confidence to do bioinformatic analysis, to be able to design, and solve problems using bioinformatics. I am looking forward to gaining confidence in Bioinformatics and applying it to solve research questions in our program. I am also excited to learn about transcriptomics and proteomics. It has always called my attention and I have lots of research questions that I think could be assessed through those methodologies, but I need more knowledge and confidence to get involved in them.
 
The Graduate Certificate in Bioinformatics will train the future scientists of Alberta who will accelerate research and innovation in the province, further diversify the economy, and tackle the problems of today and those of the future.
 
To learn more about the program visit the Graduate Certificate in Bioinformatics page and University of Lethbridge website.

BioNet Alberta: Training bioinformaticians today for a better future tomorrow

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