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What is bioinformatics anyhow?

Go to most bioinformatics sites and you’ll find a pithy definition of “bioinformatics” guaranteed to evoke a yawn and miss the whole mind-blowing, complex challenge faced by those drinking from the firehose of modern bioscience data.

Prod your average man or woman on the Clapham omnibus (i.e., a reasonably educated and intelligent but non-specialist person) and I don’t think they’d have much of a clue. Hell, I’ve been working in this area since 2004, and I still have trouble explaining my job at family gatherings.

So, is this a problem?

Well, I think so, yes.

I think it’s a big problem if people don’t appreciate things that stand to have a profound influence in their lives. I think it’s a big problem if decision-makers don’t see the different disciplines that have to mesh for us to make sound inference about life from the molecular level, through to whole ecosystems. I think it’s a big problem if the next generation of quantitative bioscientists are seduced into quantitative finance.

(No offence to any quants out there, but frankly, humanity needs your talent in the life sciences more than finessing that next exotic option.)

So, what to do?

Well one small step would be for us bioinformaticians and quantitative bioscientists to give the world a more compelling definition of bioinformatics and why it matters.

To that end, the Australian Bioinformatics Network is undertaking to produce a couple of short videos that represent the breadth, depth and excitement of bioinformatics to a general audience.

These videos aim to be built from your contributions. We are looking for clips that capture people responding to two questions:

  1. What is bioinformatics? (Or variations such as “What does bioinformatics mean to you?” “What disciplines are involved in bioinformatics?”)
  2. Why does bioinformatics matter? (To you? To the world? To the average punter?)

We are looking for sound-bites, not Boyer Lectures, so we can edit the material together in a way that gives many people a voice in conveying the diversity of bioinformatics and all the things that rely on it.

We are also looking for a “tag line”, a hook that we can use to stick bioinformatics into people’s brains. (Obviously, in a metaphorical sense.)

So, in the great tradition of short, sharp slogans, we have plumped for “Life’s complex. Use bioinformatics.”

Now, to the real heroes of this campaign. To give you a sense of the sort of content we would like to gather, six brave (and, normally, fairly retiring) quantitative bioscientists have bared their souls in the name of science.

Sincere thanks to

for joining me (David Lovell) in explaining bioinformatics to the world. (Follow the hyperlinks to see the videos.) Here's Bob, with some box office gold:



We will use these clips, and the ones that you submit, to help paint a compelling and informative picture of bioinformatics. We will edit and subtitle the footage so that it can speak to a wide audience (even with the sound down).

If you would like to capture and submit footage, please

  • Use a reasonably high quality video and audio format (the clips below are rendered down from an iPad)
  • Try for a minute of content
  • Let us know by writing to us at so we can work out how best to receive your material.

We’ll be filming at SBRS 2012 this Friday, but we know the rest of Australia’s got talent too, so please: fire up your imaginations and your camcorders…

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