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Is the Bioinformaticist an Endangered Species?

SAN DIEGO, Calif., Feb. 6 - Bioinformatics - as a standalone discipline, at least - will be extinct by 2012, according to Lincoln Stein.

 

Stein, a researcher at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and a driving force in the bioinformatics community, predicted the field's demise in a keynote talk at the O'Reilly Bioinformatics Conference here this week. The news isn't entirely bad, however: According to Stein, the 700 or so practicing bioinformaticists in attendance will still have jobs in a decade, but their titles may change. "We'll be doing the same thing, but it won't be considered a field," he said.

 

Bioinformatics will most likely follow a similar trajectory as molecular biology has since it emerged as a hot new field in the 1970s, Stein said. It took about a decade and a half for molecular biology to evolve "from a discipline into a service," he noted. Today, few consider themselves to be "molecular biologists," although most biologists use molecular biology tools and techniques on a regular basis.

 

Similarly, Stein said, bioinformatics "is a tool, not a discipline, and tools have a way of getting absorbed into science."

 

For those already immersed in the field or considering bioinformatics as a career, Stein had some simple advice: "It's the biology, stupid." Those wondering "how to make it in bioinformatics or whatever it's going to get called" must consider themselves to be biologists first and foremost, and focus their efforts on interesting biological problems, he said. Most importantly, he noted, "Do it because you love it."

 

Attendee reactions to Stein's outlook ranged from inspired to disturbed, but for those paying attention, perhaps the writing was literally on the wall: Resumes on the job postings board outside the conference room outnumbered available bioinformatics positions two to one.

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