The bioinformatics degree programs at the UdeM provide basic bidisciplinary training in life sciences and computer science. These programs have been created in recognition of a growing and urgent demand for highly qualified researchers at the interface of these two sciences. In fact, the recent and fast development of genomics and proteomics entailed a closer collaboration between the specialists of the sciences of life and computer science, while highlighting the crucial importance of developing new approaches and analytic methods for exploring the huge quantity of biological data generated. In order to answer to the needs of the pharmaceutical and biotechnological as well as the academic sector, it has become essential to train specialists with skills in both biosciences and computer science.
The recent methods of drug discovery, the huge sequencing of small microbial and larger eukaryotic genomes like that of human along with the automation of methods for the acquisition of biological data, have triggered an unprecedented increase in the quantity of gathered information on biological systems. These new developments became possible through pioneers who assembled multidisciplinary teams including classical biologists, molecular biologists, biochemists, mathematicians and informaticians.
It has become obvious in the last years that neither the B.Sc. program in life sciences nor in computer science prepare students to face the problems of bioinformatic research, because this requires the integration of solid knowledge in biosciences and computer science. On the other hand, few students feel ready to invest six years in a related discipline and one in computer science. Also, it is important to realize that even such a double training remains incomplete because students have not been familiarized with an integrated approach to bioinformatics problems.
The difficulty of recruiting researchers of graduate and postgraduate students who have adequate skills for participating in bioinformatics research projects and are able to create the interface between life sciences and computer sciences is a problem found all over the world. This is because of the relatively recent birth of the discipline of bioinformatics. Like their colleagues of other universities, many researchers of the Université de Montréal pursuing research in areas related to bioinformatics, currently face this difficulty. As emphasized earlier, this lack of qualified personnel has become even more pressing since 2001, when the governmental funding programs of genomic research (Génome Québec/Génome Canada) came into effect.
This sector in mainly composed of pharmaceutical and biotechnological companies. Some companies in environment or agrifood also need bioinformatic expertise.
During the first semester of the year 2000, Dr G. Burger and M. Bouvier of the biochemestry department took the initiative of consulting a certain number of directors and managers of pharmaceutical and biotechnological companies to find out their needs in specialized bioinformaticians. The letters received from companies based in Canada (AstraZeneca, Glaxo Wellcome Inc., BioSignal, Signalgene, etc.) and abroad (Incyte Genomics, LI-COR’s Scientific, Sunesis Pharmaceuticals, etc.) emphasize the lack of specialists in bioinformatics as does the large number of job offers for bioinformaticians that are presently found in scientific journals such as ‘Science’, ‘Nature’, ‘Bioinformatics’ and on the internet.