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M.Sc. in Biosystems and Informatics

Martyn Amos M.Amos at csc.liv.ac.uk
Thu Jun 8 20:38:44 EST 2000

	M.Sc., Postgraduate Diploma and Postgraduate Certificate in 
			Biosystems & Informatics

		      The University of Liverpool

The School of Biological Sciences and the Department of Computer Science
will be offering a new one-year full-time M.Sc. in Biosystems & Informatics
from September 2000.

o The course context

This course explores the interface between two of the most dynamic and
influential subject areas of our time, biology and computing. In 1995 the
sequencing of the first genome of a free-living organism moved biology
irrevocably into the new data-rich era of bioinformatics. The availability of
the blueprint of simple organisms and, in the near future, of humans has not
of itself answered all our questions. New knowledge leads to new perspectives,
new challenges and, ultimately, the promise of new products, leading to
fundamental changes in the way that the pharmaceutical industry, for example,
goes about its business. For the moment, however, the blueprint offers a
static, incomplete and sometimes conjectural picture of the cell and organism.
Beyond the detail of connecting gene to function, what is missing is the
dynamic: a clear model of how a single gene functions within a complex network
to govern expression of the blueprint, an understanding of how the protein
folds, and a vision of how metabolic pathways and, in their turn, cells,
tissues and organs are integrated to deliver the features we commonly
recognise in living organisms. This fundamental shift would not have been
possible without the power of modern information technology. The storage,
manipulation and analysis of sequence and structural data pose leading edge
computational challenges. Progress has been greatly facilitated by development
of Web- accessible databases and applications software. Computers are also
providing the means to simulate many of the dynamic features of life that are
currently of interest and thereby to test and inform hypotheses. The flow of
benefit has not, however, been entirely in one direction into the life
sciences. Much of what we understand about the organisation of biological
processes can in turn be applied to produce new approaches to solving problems
in computer science, such as neural and evolutionary computing. The virtuous
circle is complete when these new techniques are themselves applied to
biological problems.

o The course

The M.Sc. in Biosystems & Informatics addresses the issues identified above
from the perspective of both the biologist and the computer scientist. The aim
of the course is to enable life science graduates to become conversant with
the use of computers to address biological problems by means of molecular
data (bio/informatics) and modelling of biological systems (biosystems). A
complementary aim is to provide computer science graduates with a grounding
in the life sciences sufficient to enable them to work on life science
problems and develop applications employing biological metaphors. Both areas
increasingly rely on World-Wide Web data and tools which will be a significant
feature of the course for both cohorts of students.

The course will admit students with B.Sc. degrees at a 2.II standard or better
in either: 

o A life or biomedical science underpinned by a good level of IT awareness. 
o Computer science, mathematics, engineering or other appropriate degree with
  a significant IT component. 

Biology students should ideally have an A-level in mathematics, physics or
information technology whilst for other graduates, a science A-level would be

o Course structure

The academic year comprises three semesters and students take modules to an
equivalent of 4 points (60 CATS) in each semester.

Semester 1: Students take 1-point modules in Bioinformatics and Java
Programming. They then have a choice of two further 1-point modules chosen
according to their background from the following: Fundamental molecular
biology, Advanced topics in molecular biology, Biocomputing and Application of
information technology. Point at which Postgraduate Certificate can be awarded

Semester 2: Students take a 1.5-point module in Biosystems and continue the
theme of the first semester with a 0.5-point module entitled Case studies on
advanced topics in bioinformatics. They undertake a 1-point dissertation and
then choose one further module from the following: Knowledge-based systems,
Data structures and maintenance, Biology of information, Efficient parallel
algorithms. Point at which a Postgraduate Diploma can be awarded.

Semester 3: Students undertake a 4-point research project making use of the
new skills and perspectives they have obtained. Point at which a Masters
degree can be awarded.

In order to obtain credit for a course module that can be included in a
'record of achievement' transcript, the student must achieve a pass mark of
at least 50% in that module. The award of M.Sc. requires that a minimum of
180 credits be obtained, this representing a mark of 50% or more in all
modules. The award of a Postgraduate Diploma requires a minimum of 120 credits
and award of a Postgraduate Certificate a minimum of 60 credits.

o Careers

The employment prospects for bioinformaticians are currently very good as
there is a widely recognised shortage of trained staff, particularly at the
post-doctoral level. A survey conducted by the BBSRC estimated that there was
an immediate requirement for a 60% increase in staff numbers in the
non-medical bioscience academic sector, and a corresponding 45% increase
required in the large pharmaceutical companies. Some 60 posts are currently
advertised for the UK and Europe on the CCP11 Web noticeboard. A longer
international list can be consulted at the GenomeJobs Web site. Celera,
arguably the most ambitious and well-funded of the new US companies, claims
to be hiring one person per day at present with the majority of its staff
being software, IT, and bioinformatics professionals.

o Biocomputing at Liverpool

Liverpool is well placed to exploit these new interfacial themes. The
Department of Computer Science  has been proactive both in exploiting the new
biological paradigms in its own teaching and research and in forming
productive alliances with biologists, most notably through the auspices of
the Biocomputing Group. Dr Paton has been instrumental in establishing the
IPCAT (Information processing in cells and tissues) conference as a major
focus for international developments and more recently has piloted the
EPSRC-funded CytoCom network at a national level. Professor Gibbons secured
funding under the EPSRC/BBSRC Bioinformatics Program in the area of 
Generalised DNA Computing with viable resources.

The biosciences within the University range through the many facets of
traditional biology to biomedicine, bioengineering and veterinary and dental
sciences. Biological Sciences has obtained  HEFCE competitive funding for
creation of the new Liverpool Biosciences Centre and, in association with
other departments, has recently attract ed JREI funding for research equipment
of significance for bioinformatics development (e.g. tools for proteome
analysis, microarray robot). Genomics and proteomics are at the core of these
developments and in turn rely extensively on bioinformatics. 

o For further information 

Please contact the Course Organiser, 

	Dr Martyn Amos, 
 	School of Biological Sciences,     
	The University of Liverpool, 
	Crown Street, 
	Liverpool L69 7ZB.
	United Kingdom

	Tel:(+44) (0)151 794 4414
	Fax: (+44) (0)151 794 4401
	E-mail: mamos at liv.ac.uk

** DETAILS ON THE WEB AT http://www.csc.liv.ac.uk/~martyn/biosystems **

Dr Martyn Amos -- mamos at liv.ac.uk -- School of Biological Sciences and 
http://www.csc.liv.ac.uk/~martyn/ -- Department of Computer Science,
"Carp Diem" -- Fish of the day    -- University of Liverpool, UK

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