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March 16, 2004
CONTACT: Ron Podell
734.487.4400
ward.mullens@emich.edu

EMU Regents approve master's degree program in bioinformatics

YPSILANTI - Eastern Michigan University is looking to grab its market share in the emerging life sciences industry by offering a cutting edge master's program - bioinformatics - that fuses information technology with molecular biology.

Built on exploratory work done with the support of a $50,000 grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, this specific master's program will combine 34-35 hours of core competencies in science, computer science and statistics, and business management to produce graduates able to work as partners in scientific discovery terms. The goal of the program is to prepare students for a professional career as bioinformatics specialists.

The Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents approved the new master's of science program in bioinformatics at its regular meeting March 16.

The program gives EMU an inside track into producing future professionals for a discipline likely to play a critical role in the life sciences and medicine during this century.

"This is a great example of community engagement and a program designed around the real needs of the life science industry," said EMU President Samuel A. Kirkpatrick.

Bioinformatics has increasingly been applied to non-academic problems in biotechnology, such as those in molecular biology that focus on how genes are organized. Blending biotechnology and information technology, this new discipline will help shape advances in the life sciences.

The pharmaceutical industry currently presents the greatest requirements for trained professionals, but needs are rapidly increasing in the fields of infectious diseases, criminal forensics, agriculture and environmental science, said Henry Zot, associate professor of

biology and coordinator of the master's program. According to Zot, there are nearly 80 pharmaceutical, bioinformatics or genomic/proteomic companies in Washtenaw County.

"Typically, a small company will have someone specialized in life sciences or someone from the computer side, " Zot said. "But, they usually don't have enough people trained in both areas. These are the types of folks our program would produce."

Previous studies of workforce need in bioinformatics at a national level have documented a demand for skilled workers that exceeds the number of students training in the field. A survey of 176 U.S. bioinformatics and biotechnology employers conducted by the center for Public Policy at Virginia Commonwealth University during the summer of 2001 revealed that more than one-half of the bioinformatics employers expect to be hiring over the next five years. Master's level candidates may expect entry-level salaries of $25,000-$45,000.  

The first students in the program were admitted in fall 2003, through the Individualized Studies Program, while the program waited formal approval. Students graduating from the program in 2005 would be conferred the first degrees in bioinformatics.

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Eastern Michigan University is a public, comprehensive university that offers programs in the arts, sciences and professions. EMU prepares students with the intellectual skills and practical experiences to succeed in their career and lives, and to be better citizens.

Editor's Note: Looking for an expert source for a story? Check out EMU's Eastern Experts online at www.emich.edu/univcomm/easternexperts.


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