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What key skills will be most valuable to scientists in integrated biology?


A.Basic skills in integrated biology should include knowledge of chemistry, biochemistry, bioinformatics and molecular biology. I have also found it necessary to learn some physiology and immunology. You don’t have to be an expert in all, but it helps to have at least some background in each field.

Deborah Kallick
Human Biological Chemistry & Genetics Department
University of Texas Medical Branch


A.Engineering skills are extremely valuable for integrated biology. The kind of mental models that engineers use to understand and design complex systems have not widely been employed in the life sciences until recently. We’re finally starting to have enough data regarding cells and organisms to make this kind of thinking very fruitful.

Alan Hochberg
Vice President, ProSanos


A.Scientific domain knowledge, statistics, chemometrics, and programming language (especially Matlab).

Chang Hsiung
Senior Scientist, Smiths Detection


A.Integrated biology demands unification of biology. The most crucial skill boils down to basic collaborative communication.

Since biology is inherently a competitive process, communication concerning informatics projects is often hampered by the desire to create the next “killer app.” But, as evident by larger genome-based informatics projects, scientist can work in conjunction to solve the most difficult problems in biological information management.

These projects exemplify the underlying requisite of communication and competition that will take integrated biology into the future.

Joseph Murray, Informatics Specialist
AGY Therapeutics


A.If we’re talking about making scientific progress in an inherently interdisciplinary field, the most important thing is not skill but attitude.

People from a predominantly life sciences background are going to need to see their idiosyncratic, detail-oriented world from the formal perspective instilled in those trained in mathematics, computer science, physics, or philosophy.

People from formal backgrounds will need extensive hands-on experience in empirical lab or field work to appreciate the true complexity of organic systems, which they often tend to abstract out of their models.

Eric Minch, Senior Research Fellow
Applied Computer Science and Mathematics
Merck Research Laboratories


A.Keeping up on current trends and technology, and learning computer programming skills such as SQL, Perl, Java. With more information available every day and the requirement to be knowledgable across disciplines, using automated Web tools to search and filter papers, books, and internet content is crucial to efficiently select the most useful materials to read.

David Carter
London Regional Genomics Centre
Robarts Research Institute


A.The key skills involve acquiring and maintaining skills in scientific inference, including statistical and causal modeling, involving large arrays of data. This includes understanding the problems in dealing with laboratory variability, multiple inference, data reduction, pattern searching, and robust inference. Systems biology needs to provide the framework for understanding these large sets of data to avoid the “astrology” problem: finding more patterns than are really there.

Timothy R. Church
Associate Professor,
University of Minnesota School of Public Health


Here’s the question for our July/AUGUST issue:

Will off-target silencing prove too great a challenge to the future success of RNAi? Why or why not?


Blunt End is a forum for readers to share their experiences and advice. Don’t miss your chance to pass on your wisdom: Send your response to the upcoming question today to [email protected] Remember to be specific, and be sure to give us your full name and institution so we can give you credit for your suggestion.

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