Bioinformatics competency has become a key element in much of contemporary biology. The increasing potential that is to be realized with modern technologies, such as ‘next-generation’ sequencing, parallel and ‘cloud’ computing, and continually increasing data banks, requires a fundamental understanding of bioinformatics concepts and applications. On par with the complexity of biological inquiry, acquiring bioinformatics competency can become a complex endeavor of undecipherable jargon, mathematics and frustration. The requirement for bioinformatics training affects the full range of budding biologists to seasoned professionals. This special issue stems from a personal desire to coalesce the most recent ‘snapshot’ of current activities in bioinformatics education, with the goal of providing a resource for biologists and bioinformatics educators alike.
This special issue begins with a pair of articles that captures the current state of bioinformatics education. First, Cummings and Temple explore the opportunities and challenges generally faced in bioinformatics education. Then, Schneider et al. present a discussion of approaches for providing adequate training for bioinformatics services. Both articles contextualize their observations relative to pragmatic training experiences, which provide context for the breadth of obstacles faced by modern bioinformatics education. Together, these opening articles help set the stage for understanding the range of educational experiences and approaches that are the focus of the rest of the articles in this special issue.
The importance of bioinformatics has underscored the value of common resources that are available to the scientific community at large. Leading the way in providing publicly available bioinformatics education support are the European Molecular Biology Laboratory’s European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) and the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) at the United States National Library of Medicine. Wright et al. describe the potential for ‘eLearning’ modalities to provide bioinformatics training, with specific attention to the resources available from the EBI. Cooper et al. then provide an overview of the bioinformatics education resources at the NCBI, introducing a newly redesigned Web-based portal to NCBI Educational resources.
The next three articles explore the challenge of developing bioinformatics education approaches. Jungck et al. describe the BEDROCK project as an approach for supporting bioinformatics education, with a particular emphasis on undergraduate education. Appreciating that much of bioinformatics education must be pragmatic, Rother et al. describe ‘multi-stage learning aids’ as a way to provide detailed practical education on bioinformatics applications, such as PyMOL. Finally, Buttigieg presents a review of approaches for providing bioinformatics education that blends multimedia presentations, visual communication and practical pedagogy.
Appreciating that much of bioinformatics education may not occur within the classroom setting, the next two articles describe educational approaches in ‘real-world’ settings. Williams et al. describe resources developed by OpenHelix that provide life-long learning opportunities for researchers to gain necessary bioinformatics expertise. Yamashita et al. then describe an approach for providing hands-on training of concepts necessary for bioinformatics application development through immersion in a practical setting (in this case, the Marine Biological Laboratory).
The globalization of biological research implicates the need for bioinformatics education internationally. The last two articles of this special issue aim to provide an international perspective of bioinformatics education. First, Kilkarne-Kale et al. describe the history and future directions of bioinformatics in India. The special issue then concludes with a review of the Gulbenkian Training Programme in Bioinformatics in Portugal, which has provided a comprehensive bioinformatics educational experience with limited resources for nearly a decade.
While not all biologists will necessarily specialize in developing bioinformatics innovations, their biology innovations will increasingly become dependent on bioinformatics. Bioinformatics education will thus become more essential in biology education. As exemplified through the articles in this special issue, the future for bioinformatics education has a significant underpinning of experiences and approaches for providing the necessary range of bioinformatics education. What is also highlighted through all the articles in this special issue is that there are still major obstacles that lie ahead for the development of a uniform approach for bioinformatics education. Nonetheless, it is my view that the inspired insights of those involved with bioinformatics education (such as those who contributed to this special issue) provide the hope that such obstacles are surmountable—the future of biology will depend on it.