Bioinformatics for Beginners

If you fancy a career move into the growing field of bioinformatics and want to do some homework before you start firing off applications, it's worth checking out This Web site claims to be able to provide anyone with a basic knowledge of bioinformatics, including genomics and medical informatics. But it would help to have a basic science education. The site was set up by GLOBULE, an alliance of six universities (the Karolinska Institute and the University of Uppsala in Sweden, the National University of Singapore, Stanford University in the U.S., the University of Sydney in Australia, and the University of the Western Cape in South Africa) that aims to build a glob al, u nified bioinformatics l earning e nvironment.

Rather than making you return to the classroom, S-Star brings the classroom to you. It provides a series of lectures, beginning with Introductory Molecular Biology. By clicking to view the lecture you are presented with the first of a series of slides and a box containing Media Player. Play the video and you'll get a personally delivered lecture with accompanying slides. We've all experienced lecturers with jumpy trigger fingers, racing through PowerPoint slides at a rate of knots. But what to do? Moan loudly every time the slide disappears, or hope that after the lecture, if everyone pools his or her notes that you may have a complete record! This Web site provides an ideal solution, as you can review slides at your leisure and stop and start the lecture at will, allowing you to nip out for a cup of coffee without missing anything vital!

Moving on from basic molecular biology, the lectures cover protein folding and DNA structure through to the use of databases and sequencing techniques and bioinformatics in industry. The lectures are presented by prestigious staff members from each of the universities involved, so along with getting to grips with the basics of bioinformatics you get a worldwide tour of lecture theatres! Some are recordings of actual lectures, allowing the audience to ask all the questions you wanted to, and some take the form of a 'talking head' giving you a one-on-one. However, both variations are engaging and informative, beginning basically and building up knowledge and technical terminology, so that even a novice needn't feel lost.

There is quite a heavy emphasis on the biological aspects of bioinformatics, which implies that the Web site was designed for computer scientists looking to learn the basics of biology, rather than vice-versa. But if you are well versed in biology and need to brush up your computing skills, you'll find lectures that cover more techie topics, such as structure prediction. Anybody watching all the lectures will find some overlap. An inevitable downside of collaborations such as this?

Also contained on the site are three self-directed learning tasks. These link to other sites that allow you to use the knowledge you've gained from the lectures. The self-directed learning is easy to follow, but is more challenging to understand than the lectures and seems slightly beyond the scope of them. There are plans to extend the site giving the opportunity for the user to choose their own course to follow, along with links to assessment, grading, and coursework.

As for the site itself, apart from a snazzy Flash opening sequence, it isn't very pretty. But after all, you are here to learn! The basic layout of the site makes it easy to follow the links to the lectures and tasks, so don't let the lack of flair put you off. If you are looking for an all-encompassing intro to bioinformatics, this is where you should start. It provides all it promises: a series of comprehensive lectures and self-learning tasks to provide bioinformatics teaching. All this with the added ability to stop the lecturers whenever you want--what more could you ask?!

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