Can someone give me the lowdown on bioinformatics, computational biology, and the major difference between the two.
I really enjoy math and I think there is some cool shit in mol bio so I want to find a graduate program in which I could merge the two.
Bioinformatics is generally used interchangeably with computational biology, but in some contexts it connotes more of a data-analytic approach while computational biology is about creating computational models of biological systems.
These terms are used so vaguely that it is pointless to worry about labeling. In the most specific sense though I would not say that computational biology creates tools for bioinformatics. Computational biology tends to be about trying to model a biological system. This is sort of like inductive reasoning, in that you are "guessing" how the system works and seeing how the results of your guess match the empirical data. Bioinformatics on the other hand is more deductive in that you are finding a pattern in large amounts of empirical data such as a genomic database. But again, I wouldn't worry about which field you are specifically interested in since they are generally interchangeable. It's more important to have a specific idea of how you want to use computer science and biology. Basically look at what professors are doing in the programs you want to apply to.
>It's more important to have a specific idea of how you want to use computer science and biology. Basically look at what professors are doing in the programs you want to apply to.
Wow okay that makes total sense. Do you work in the field?
Not the guy who originally responded, but he gave great answers.
More or less. I'm in a biophysics program, but don't do much computational work (though, we do have computational guys and gals in our program).
I'd say that this post >>7803524 is right-on. A bioinformatician tends to focus on analyzing larger amounts of data, such as a genome database, whereas a computational biologist would model one system (a systems biologist would look at one or few pathways, whereas a structural biologist would look at one, well, structure).
I would agree that there isn't much differentiation between the fields. Many graduate programs in biophysics/bioinformatics/computational biology are multidisciplinary, and have faculty from numerous departments (physics, chemistry, mathematics, electrical engineering, computer science, etc.). Look at particular professors you are interested in, poke around their website or even reach out to them, and let them suggest the best program for you to apply.
true bioinformaticians are the people who make the tools everyone else uses. they tend to be CS or stats transplants without a whole lot of wetlab training
applied bioinformaticians tend to work on genome-scale data. huge sets of microarrays, multiple sequencing experiment datasets, stuff like that
computational biologists are people who work on smaller systems. stuff like signaling network modeling, evolutionary modeling, systems biology (though that has overlap with bioinf)
for the most part computational biology and bioinformatics are the exact same thing. what you call yourself says more about the scale of your data than the tools you use and the science you apply
What's your background, OP? Are you a pure maths/comp sci type, or a biologist/biochemist who enjoys maths? Do you like scripting languages (particularly Bash and R)? If this is something you're really interested in, go and read up on sequence alignment algorithms, next-gen sequencing, gene prediction using machine learning etc. and see if this is something you're interested in. Even have a look at RNA-Seq. My background is genomics so admittedly the stuff I recommended may only be applicable in that area, but there's a load of cool stuff going on in protein bioinformatics. Perhaps another anon can weigh in here.
Answering your question; bioinformatics is a huge umbrella term for anyone who uses computational tools to answer biological questions, or develops tools for this purpose, etc. As far as I'm aware, the difference between bioinformatics and computational biology is trivial argument of nomenclature.
This is the thing, though; from the development perspective of bioinformatics, it's entirely possible to be a software developer interested in text processing or databasing, with no in-depth knowledge (perhaps a fleeting interest) of biology, and call yourself a bioinformatician. On the other hand, you may not be too familiar with computer science, but have scripting abilities, good knowledge of biology and an interest in bio research, statistics and sequencing, and you can still call yourself a bioinformatician. It's a huge field, an interest in applying maths and computing to biology is really the only requisite.