Bioinformaticians create, use and develop computer algorithms to analyse genomic, and related, data. The work brings together biology, computing, maths and statistics, with different aspects taking the lead depending on the exact task at hand.
Faye Rodgers is a bioinformatician working on helminths – parasitic worms that cause a range of diseases. “I always preferred the data analysis side of working in a lab. You know where you are with data, you have more control,” she explains.
Faye uses a range of languages to write programs or stitch together existing ones to get the analysis pipelines she needs. She works closely with colleagues in her team who are generating the data. Recently they have been infecting gut cells with helminths, and then sequencing the genes that are active in both the parasite and host.
Their aim is to understand the early interactions between the host and the parasite, which could open avenues to uncovering potential drug targets.
“My colleagues are immunologists or cell biologists and know what they are looking for in the data. Together we plan experiments that allow us to understand how the worms are interacting with their hosts. At the moment we are looking at which genes are switched on in the host’s gut cells when they encounter the worm.”
New and powerful single-cell sequencing technology used at the Sanger Institute is helping researchers look at how the genome is behaving in an individual cell. The combination of this technology and bioinformatics will open the door to a deeper understanding of how a cell functions.
“I find the work really absorbing. It has goals, it’s problem solving and it’s very motivating.”