If you’re jumping into the world of bioinformatics, be prepared to be a bit overwhelmed with the different databases, programs, and jargon. You’ll hear names of programs and resources like BLAST, LipoP, T-Coffee, WebLogo and the list goes on. So what are some great resources to learn bioinformatics online? First it helps to know what bioinformatics is. Then, check out some of the resources below, from online courses to books. Lastly, if you want to get your feet wet, check out our tutorial that’ll get you started doing bioinformatics.
Learn Bioinformatics Online
If you’re looking for a class-like experience to learn bioinformatics, Couresera and EdX are awesome resources. These are websites that specialize in taking college-like classes and making them available to everyone. Do a bit of shopping around to find a course that’s 1) at your comfort level of pace 2) fits your knowledge level and 3) doesn’t require more time than you have. If you’re an absolute beginner, try Couresera’s top 50 ranked bioinformatics course series. Have you got a bit of programming background? Try genomic science course series.
Some of these are one off classes, others exist in a series comprised of 7 or 8 courses in total. Because the courses change from time to time, I’m simply going to link to Coursera’s and EdX’s bioinformatics page rather that to individual courses.
Begginer’s Guide to Bioinformatics Online Book
Written by a Penn State professor (Dr. István Albert) who has been involved with a number of bioinformatics programs from their inception, this downloadable bioinformatics pdf book (cheap but not free) is a beginner’s guide written by someone who has taught a lot of students. Additionally, Dr. Albert has also been helping run an online forum for bioinformaticians, which also helped him to see the common questions and mistakes that happen in bioinformatics.
Interestingly, this book works like a subscription model where you pay for the book plus x months/years of updates. This is an option you might seriously want to consider as unlike other disciplines, bioinformatics teaches you to use certain programs and these programs get updated and changed from time to time so if you buy a 2 year old textbook, you may be lost if a given program has been significantly changed.
Bioinformatics Online Forums
There are a lot of resources on the web for bioinformatics. For one, it’s a lot like other web or programming fields where there are stack exchanges (question and answer websites) where you can learn bioinformatics by associating with and asking questions of your bioinformaticist peers. One of the top ranking forums is Biostars, which is where the book by Dr. Albert mentioned above comes from. The community is pretty vibrant and helpful. Use the search function and you can find treasures such as this helpful post on good beginning books on bioinformatics.
Bioinformatics Projects for Beginners
Bioinformatics doesn’t require any lab equipment, and since this is a DIY biology site, it makes sense for a us to have a bioinformatics project you can try out. I’ve created a tutorial/walk-through where you can help discover proteins and annotate genomes- all through online bioinformatics programs and none of it costing a dime. I’ll explain more on my bioinformatics project page (as soon as I get it posted, which should be in the next week or two), but be excited. It’s a quick way to learn bioinformatics online and it’s very much at the beginner level (as long as you know some basics on the parts of the cell, DNA vs amino acids, and what the plasma membrane is, you should be totally fine).
Arguably the best (albeit most demanding and expensive) way to learn bioinformatics is to take university courses in the field. Something of note: people who work in bioinformatics as professionals make a lot of money. There are a lot of universities that offer bioinformatics degrees, both undergraduate and graduate. I haven’t looked into them all, so I’ll leave that to you. Suffice it to say that there are some programs from some top universities that even allow you to do a masters in bioinformatics online and while you’re still holding down a job, such as John’s Hopkins program. I probably don’t need to tell you that John’s Hopkins is one of the top medical universities in the nation.