Computing Has Changed Biology—Biology Education Must Catch Up

When I opinionated on and on about All Biology being Computational Biology, I was aware that these were not really novel ideas. After all Hallam Stevens had written a whole book about it and my friends inside my intellectual bubble kept on asking why I had spent so much time on writing up something so glaringly obvious.

But what I had missed is that some of my points had already been made very clearly in an excellent piece by Pavel Pevzner and Ron Shamir in Science in 2009 titled “Computing Has Changed Biology—Biology Education Must Catch Up“.

They argue:

Advances in computing have forever changed the practice of biological research.

Computational biology, or bioinformatics, is as essential for biology in this century as molecular biology was in the last.

In fact, it is difficult to imagine modern molecular biology without computational biology.


What they are basically saying is ‘All biology is computational biology’.

And comparing biologists’ quantitative training to other fields like economy, they make the following sobering observation:

[T]oday’s typical undergraduate economics curriculum may cover linear and integer programming, combinatorial algorithms, dynamic programming, game theory, and other computational concepts[, while biological training does not.]

[T]he paradoxical result is that economics undergraduates may now be better prepared than biology graduate students to understand how DNA sequence alignment or gene prediction algorithms work (based on dynamic programming).

And because of this:

Bioinformatics and biology communities should work together so that education of biologists in the 21st century may become as sophisticated as the computational education of physicists or economists.

I completely agree.

Their message is as valid today as it was in 2009.


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