*The picture above shows a computerized version of what our DNA helix might actually look like. Cool right?
Life Sciences are complex, steadily becoming a focal point for key industries in the world. These research methods are not entirely novel, as they date back to ancient times from the domestication of animals, cultivation of the plants, to making improvements in these through breeding programs that employ artificial selection and hybridization. Still, the modern applications are accelerating at a significant pace, giving rise to new tributary fields. Brent Erickson, executive vice president at Industrial and Environmental Section (Biotechnology Innovation Organization) says that these disciplines are “…creating a new industrial revolution based on biology instead of petroleum. As biotech processes replace old rust-belt technologies, they are enabling a transformation from a petroleum-based economy to a bio-based economy.”
Most students face the dilemma of making a choice amongst numerous research areas related to their respective fields. In this case, the students of life sciences are not an exception. In the world of ever-growing knowledge, here are some of the research areas students can pursue:
- Bioinformatics & Computational Biology:
A major in Computational Biology (Biomathematics) and Bioinformatics will allow you to fully explore mathematics and biology. You will learn how to complete mathematical computations that are essential to biology and research. Along with learning complex mathematics, you will also study areas such as Genomics, Molecular Modeling, Structural Biology, Ecology, Systems Biology, Genetics, Microbiology, Chemistry, and Physics. The things you learn in your classes will provide you with the knowledge to develop new mathematical methods in order to track genetic diseases, and in turn, improve human life. Students who choose this major should enjoy mathematics. A great deal of time will be spent in memorizing formulas and solving problems. Hard work along with analytical and critical thinking skills will help you succeed. This major requires dedication and work, but is very rewarding as complex problems become solvable. Your classes and study will enable you to develop analytical and predictive models of biology.
Career prospects will be plentiful: you will be able to work as a researcher in various scientific or medical industries. Some graduates also work in education as secondary or post-secondary teachers. You may also be able to apply for a grant in order to pursue independent research.
During your time as a Genetics major you will learn all aspects of cell growth, reproduction, and mutations. Mutations are responsible for cancer as well as a host of other diseases. You will also explore Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Some of the courses you will take in this major are: Biochemistry; Population Genetics; Developmental Genetics; Molecular Genetics; Evolutionary Genetics; Genetic Data Analysis; Human Genetics; Advanced Mathematics; and Organic Chemistry.
Concentrations in this major include: Molecular Genetics; Microbial and Eukaryotic Genetics; Animal Genetics; Plant Genetics; Human and Medical Genetics; and Genome Sciences. This major is most frequently offered as a Master’s or Ph.D. However, some institutions offer it as a Bachelor’s degree. A passion for science and discovery will help you get through long hours studying math and science and memorizing formulas. You will also be studying evolution and history. Curiosity, innovation and ability to adapt to new technology will aid you. Do not get frustrated; persistence is the key to success in this major.
Most people interested in this field will continue their education to get a minimum of a master’s degree. You may also decide to focus on medicine, veterinary medicine, or biology. If you do not want to continue your education further, genetics majors can also find work upon graduating in a number of fields such as government or independent research, agricultural laboratories, botanical gardens, national parks or even private research.
Genomics is similar in some respects to the field of Genetics, but more recent and sophisticated. This major specifically focuses on the thorough study of the DNA as well as the structure, function and development of the ‘genome’. Recent field research has shown that through the brand-new field of genomics, the Human Genome Sequencing, that cost approximately $3 billion and took a hundred scientists over 15 years on a single patient, can be conducted now in less than $1000 by a couple of scientists. Additionally, the students who pursue this major are enabled to engineer personalized medicine: custom-made drugs specific to the metabolic system of a single person.
Concentrations in this major include: Functional Genomics (identifying functions of proteins and genomes) and Personal Genomics (which includes methods helping in identification of a person’s ancestry).
Passion for your topic of study will help you through difficult coursework. Be confident with your skills, but ready to ask for help if you get stuck. Work on your time management skills in order to juggle multiple science and math classes and labs at the same time. You will be spending a lot of time in lab often working closely with a lab partner. Interpersonal skills are helpful when working with your peers and your professors.
Careers can be plentiful as this field is novel compared to other life sciences, and major offshoots in this discipline are in prospect. At the moment in Pakistan, Rehman Medical Institute (RMI) in Peshawar, is the only institute that offers genome sequencing.
- Neurobiology and Neurosciences:
Students of Neurobiology and Neuroscience will study the structure and functions of the brain; the importance of the nervous system; how nerve cells send and receive signals; and the evolution of the brain. You will take a closer look at consciousness and how the brain controls all functions of your body, as well as what can happen when something goes wrong. Part of the major involves studying the effects of drugs and alcohol on your brain and nervous system. Classes that you will come across in this major are: chemistry, physics, biology, biochemistry, cell biology, microbiology, advanced mathematics, immunology, neurobiology, neuropsychology, physiology, and drugs and behavior. This major concentrates on: Neuroscience; Neuroanatomy; Neurobiology and Anatomy; and Neurobiology and Behavior.
This major requires analytical reasoning and critical thinking skills. You will be asked to research and analyze your results. Patience will be useful, as you solve problems and conduct research. You need to know when to ask for help and when to try a different approach. Group work will play a large role in your studies. Learn to contribute your thoughts and ideas as well as step into a leadership role when needed. Most universities will require you to design and conduct a research project with the supervision and guidance of a faculty member.
A major in this field will prepare you for many different careers in advanced biology. You will be prepared to work as a neuroscientist, in medicine, business, or even law. Other career paths that you could pursue are biotechnology, research, psychology, or even education.
- Ecology, Evolution & Systems Biology:
Ecology, Evolution and Systems Biology are all about nature and how the webs of living and nonliving things interact. In these majors, you will learn how organisms develop and evolve throughout time, study their relationships with each other, and see how organisms and the environment work together in complex ecosystems. As you study, you will gain a big picture in nature as well as knowledge of the tiny creatures that make it possible. You may choose to focus on populations and the reasons behind why a particular species thrives or dies. As you continue towards your degree, you may be able to pick a specialization. Some of the concentrations available at various institutes are Ecology, Marine Biology and Biological Oceanography, Evolutionary Biology, Aquatic Biology/Limnology, Environmental Biology, Population Biology, Conservation Biology, Systems Biology, and Epidemiology.
The most successful students in these subjects enjoy nature and the outdoors. You will be working with all types of natural systems and you may have to hike to remote locations in order to collect specimens or observe natural environments. Be ready for a lot of lab work observation, analysis and experimentation with a variety of animals and plants. Students will need to learn to synthesize information from a variety of classes and subjects in order to draw conclusions.
Broad fields such as these prepare graduates for many different career paths. Some students continue their education with a Master’s Degree. Others obtain work as an environmental researcher for public or private institutions. Graduates also find work as park rangers, natural science managers, bioinformatics scientists, or even biology teachers.
- Synthetic Biology:
Synthetic Biology is the most advanced field of research in life sciences today. A major in this field greatly enables graduates in integrating novel biological systems into a practically useful engineering discipline. The key is the development of an engineering methodology based on standardized and well-characterized interchangeable parts. The significances of synthetic biology will be as great as the development of chemical engineering from alchemy, with enormous and perhaps unimaginable implications for material science and medicine. The range of potential applications is vast, encompassing but not limited to: diagnostics, therapeutics, sensors, environmental remediation, energy production, and a host of other biomolecular and chemical manufacturing outputs. Synthetic biology can also help students gain valuable insight into fundamental biological principles and improve our quantitative understanding of the living world.
This major requires a dedicated and determined student. Synthetic Biology is fascinating, yet sometimes complex to understand. Students will need clear writing in order to complete lab reports and make complicated information simple to understand. You will tap into your critical thinking skills when performing experiments.
In Pakistan, the Institute of Integrative Biosciences (IIB, CECOS) in collaboration with Directorate of Science &Technology (K-P Government) have initiated the project SynBioKP to support and promote the synthetic biology, both academia and industry, in the province. The broader aim of the project is to foster the life sciences sector in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. The course is also taught at the IIB, Peshawar.
- Stem Cell Technology:
In this research subject, there is a shared drive to develop products that help researchers promote science. Stem cell technology brings together a student’s internal scientific expertise and intimate understanding of the field, inventing ways to help leading scientists do their work more efficiently and effectively. This can be an incredibly fun and creative pursuit, as well as intensely challenging and complex. Seeing the end result, when a technology comes to life, and scientists around the world adopt it into their research, brings an amazing sense of pride and accomplishment. Concentrations of this field, especially in present times lies mainly on tissue engineering and 3D printing of different body parts including hands, skin, ears etc. This is making the phenomenon of regeneration possible in humans, helping mutilated people live like normal people.
- Biomedical Engineering Sciences:
Biomedical is among the fastest-growing multidisciplinary subjects, which combines design and problem solving Engineering skills with Medical and Biology. It is a wide and diverse field with many opportunities to specialize. For example, you could pursue Ethology: the study of animal behavior; or Chronobiology: the study of the effects that low temperatures have on living organisms. Another option is Ethnobiology: the study of past and present human interactions with the environment and the use of flora and fauna.
The courses that you will take will vary depending on what field you choose to study. However, most majors in this field will involve classes like biology, chemistry, advanced mathematics, genetics, biochemistry, and marine biology. Strong math and science skills will be useful in this field. You need to be able to think critically and consistently analyze data. Time management is essential. Many hours will be spent in the lab as well as additional hours in reading for the lecture and completing practice problems.
The demand for more sophisticated medical equipment and procedures, cost efficiency and effectiveness will boost demand for biomedical professionals. In future biomedical specialists will have a massive impact on the improvement of health services and associated industry. There are many different professions that can be chosen in the biological science field. Many students may advance their education with a graduate degree. Some become doctors, nurses, pharmacists or veterinarians. Others work in related fields as lab scientists or researchers.
At present in Pakistan, the Department of Biomedical Engineering & Sciences (NUST) offers MS degree in Biomedical Sciences and Biomedical Engineering which, according to the university, will be extended to BS Biomedical Engineering and PhD in Biomedical Engineering and Sciences programs in the near future.