Editorial: Way to go for Bioinformatics, time for re-evaluation of concepts (of education)!!

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Although Bioinformatics is a synthesis of broader disciplines, being a new tool around the corner a number of books have surfaced very recently to help tackle the subject in a more methodical way. These books form a foundation to this subject and are therefore referred to by teachers, students and professionals alike. Some of these books are “almost there” as a standard textbook for a naive, or the quintessential “beginner”.

In this month’s issue,  I take this opportunity of coming up with an editorial to discuss some of these books, not by reviewing the books ‘per se‘ but to try and classify them in their merits along the lines of their popularity among masses and peeking into reasons for their popularity.

The criterion for selection of these books is on the basis of what is available in the Indian market and what is recommended by peers. These books are (in the order of their popularity) Bioinformatics and Functional Genomics by Jonathan Pevsner (Wiley-Blackwell, First published November 2003), Bioinformatics: Principles and Applications by Ghosh and Mallick (Oxford University Press, Published 2008), Biological Sequence Analysis by Durbin et al., by Cambridge University Press and Bioinformatics: A Practical Guide to The Analysis of Genes and Proteins by Andreas D. Baxevanis and B.F. Francis Ouellette (Wiley-India Edition, 2006) and finally Bioinformatics by D. Srinivas Rao (Biotech Pharma Publications).

Among these, the book by Jonathan Pevsner is one of the best and popular among Indian Universities due to its finesse, quality of content, and an in-depth coverage of the subject. The entire book is divided into three main sections: Sequence Analysis, Functional Genomics and Genomics. The book discusses major concepts with a decent coverage to help develop an understanding of the subject matter and its conceptual intricacies. The book by Andreas et al., substantiates Pevsner very well by bringing a practical guide to deal with sequence data analysis and phylogeny inference using molecular data. All in all these two books, complete the learning loop very much for a undergraduate course syllabi. However, these books have been surpassed in sale and popularity among Indian students who find the second most popular book by Ghosh and Mallick as a better resource to understand Bioinformatics. The book is undoubtedly lucid, simple and straightforward, to the point and more being a textbook in its flavor and approach with which it heads to tease the subject. Its popularity among masses of different tiers of graduating students and academician needs to be understood from various aspects viz. the amount of peer pressure among Indian University students to perform over learning and having fun with the subject matter. The book is an excellent comprehension of Bioinformatics tools and techniques available to us by various databases and other resource centers and caters to the need of graduate students. However, somewhere between motivating a student to take up the subject as a career option, it is reduced as a shortest possible route to clear an examination and to get on with the life. I have been teaching undergraduates for 4 years now and this is the general trend/belief of the masses.

Introspecting the causes, it occurs to me that it is neither the book (the man’s best friend) at the root cause nor a specific subject. It is the entire mashed up concept of education that is making masses perceive education as a bitter pill. It is not about Indian versus Western Education. It is about what we perceive education to be, the parents or parents to be, the teachers or the teachers to be, the students, the researchers, the educators and the policy makers of education who need to revisit the basic idea of What is the aim and scope of Education? What is the need for higher education? Why do we need to go beyond a basic level of Education, and if at all we need to, to whom should we administer a particular level of education beyond basics. If these questions are not asked or introspected by us now, we run the risk of having highly educated (?) and yet good for nothing people all over the place ruining the sacrosanct meaning of being educated and learned people.

Gladly (or Sadly), the times are so rapidly changing in Indian setup of education at school and higher level that one cannot predict the future of the future generations. The emphasis is more on skill development and career oriented courses. It might be excellent for an economy as per economist’s projections or market analyzers, but what about the satisfaction of gaining knowledge and subsequently becoming less anxious, more contented, more subtle. Can’t we strike a  balance if not anything else. From where and how the balance will be obtained?  There are question and points to ponder over and over again…

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Prashant Pant

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Dr. Pant is a researcher with keen interest in software driven analysis of DNA/Protein sequence data for taxonomic, phylogenetic and other homology based studies. Currently he is involved in understanding Microbial diversity using Next generation sequencing approaches and Analysis of sequence and metagenomic datasets using computational biology approaches. He is presently engaged with undergraduate teaching as an Assistant Professor in University of Delhi

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