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April 30, 2001

Engineering school offers new major in bioinformatics

By Tim Stephens

The Baskin School of Engineering has launched a new major in bioinformatics leading to a bachelor of science (B.S.) degree. The school will begin admitting students to the new major in fall 2001.

Bioinformatics, also called computational biology, is an interdisciplinary field that brings the power of advanced computational techniques to bear on complex problems in molecular biology. UCSC has developed one of the top bioinformatics research programs in the country under the leadership of David Haussler, professor of computer science and director of the Center for Biomolecular Science and Engineering.

The important contributions of Haussler's group to the Human Genome Project provide a good example of the growing role for bioinformatics in biological and biomedical research. Haussler's team assembled a draft sequence of the human genome from fragmented data, made it available on the web, and continues to work on the analysis of the genome. UCSC also has one of the top groups in the area of protein-structure prediction, led by associate professor of computer engineering Kevin Karplus.

Researchers in biology and biochemistry are increasingly aware of the need for expertise in bioinformatics, and students have begun to seek cross-disciplinary training, Karplus said.

"We regularly work with biology and chemistry undergraduates to plan double majors as training for this exciting field," said Karplus, who will serve as the undergraduate director for the bioinformatics program.

The curriculum for the major includes courses in mathematics, computer science, computer engineering, chemistry, biology, biochemistry, and bioethics. There are also two core courses in bioinformatics. Karplus and associate professor of computer engineering Richard Hughey developed the curriculum with oversight from Haussler and Manuel Ares, professor and chair of molecular, cell, and developmental biology.

The new degree will be administered initially by the Computer Engineering Department. The engineering school's long-range plan calls for the establishment of a Biomolecular Engineering Department, which will then assume responsibility for the bioinformatics major.

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