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What Is Structural Bioinformatics?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 04 December 2016
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Structural bioinformatics is the application of mathematical research and modeling to the physical structure of biological molecules, also known as biomolecules. Research in this area covers a broad array of interests, from genetics to the development of vaccines. This branch of the biological sciences takes place in lab settings all over the world. A number of educational institutions, private organizations, and government agencies have structural bioinformatics research programs to assist with their research and development goals. Degrees in this field and fellowship opportunities are available through a number of academic institutions.

In structural bioinformatics, researchers can visually represent the physical structures of a variety of biomolecules to learn more about how they function. This information can help researchers predict structural shapes in sequence to develop hypotheses about families of molecules that may share similar traits and characteristics. In addition to representing known molecules, researchers can use modeling to predict the shape of new molecules that may be of scientific interest.

Proteins throughout the human body can be subjected to analysis by specialists in structural bioinformatics, who also study topics like DNA and RNA structures and formulation. This research can be critical in the pharmaceutical industry, where targeted medications to treat conditions without causing collateral damage are a topic of great interest. Using structural bioinformatics, researchers can develop projections about biomolecules that may help them develop new approaches to drug treatment and development.

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In vaccine development, researchers can use this tool to study antibodies and antigens and how they work together. This can assist with the creation of a carefully targeted vaccine that will allow a patient's body to fight microorganisms. The same research can be helpful in epidemics, where researchers use mathematical modeling to quickly generate information about previously unknown organisms and compounds found in the bodies of infected patients. This information can assist with the development of a treatment.

Researchers in this field typically have graduate degrees in molecular and cell biology, with a focus on bioinformatics and structural biology. This may require a decade or more in school, depending on the program and the type of research a graduate student performs. Some researchers also pursue postdoctoral work to develop their expertise even further before entering the job market. Advanced degrees and experience in this area can qualify people for work in the public or private sector. Pay can vary, depending on the kind of work a researcher performs and the location of employment.

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