Perspektive Bioinformatik - Dr. Klaus Heumann
Interview with Dr. Klaus Heumann, CEO of Biomax Informatics AG, 21 June 2004
Klaus Heumann (Dr. rer. nat.)
Chief Executive Officier
Biomax Informatics AG
Lochhamer Str. 11
Tel. +49-89-89 55 74 - 0
FAX: +49-89-89 55 74 - 825
Dr. rer. nat. K. Heumann is one of the first individuals who has committed his career to bioinformatics from the beginning of his university studies. Dr. Heumann studied computer science with a minor in microbiology and genetics at the Technical University of Munich. In 1993 he completed his diploma thesis in computer science on "Specification and implementation of a data distribution system for protein sequence databases," which was supervised by Prof. Bayer and Dr. Mewes. His PhD thesis "Biological sequence data analysis of large data sets based on position trees" was completed in 1997.
In 1996, at the Munich Information Center for Protein Sequences (MIPS), Dr. Heumann participated in publishing the first sequenced eukaryotic genome Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Dr. Heumann led the project that compiled the results on the yeast genome CD-ROM published by Science and Nature magazines.
In 1996, Dr. Heumann received the Heinz Billing Prize of the Max Planck Society for his work on "Identification and visualization of duplications in the yeast genome." His work is dedicated to high-throughput technologies requiring novel computational approaches.
Since 1998, Dr. Heumann has served as Chief Executive Officer of Biomax Informatics.
How did you decide on a career in bioinformatics?
I was drawn to bioinformatics because I find the interface between computer science and biology a very rich and exciting area of activity. Computer science offers a broad spectrum of methodology ― algorithms, databases, and approaches ― which can be applied productively to find solutions for biological research. The combination of interesting, complex questions and the tools to find the best answers quickly had a major appeal for me.
What is the future of bioinformatics, especially for industrial applications?
I am convinced that the future of bioinformatics is going to be driven by automation of life sciences technologies. Any research group that wants to keep up with the competition needs the highest possible throughput for their applications, as well as tools for managing and integrating their data. For example, laboratories can now generate volumes of gene-expression data that were previously unimaginable. But they don't have correspondingly sophisticated tools for automatically connecting their results meaningfully with other relevant data, such as methabolic or protein-protein interaction information or citations in the current biological literature. Bioinformatics is going to be critical for meeting these challenges.
What skills does a bioinformatician need to work in industry?
Obviously, solid technical skills are absolutely necessary. However, when I hire bioinformaticians, I look for qualified individuals who also have strong communication skills. This is particularly important for bioinformaticians because they often interact with teams of people with different skill sets, including biologists, computer scientists, IT professionals. I also probe to find out how good applicants are at understanding complex questions. When working in a commercial environment, it is absolutely necessary to be able to extract informatics principles and apply them to complex problems that occur in real working environments.
What advice do you have for bioinformatics students seeking a career in industry?
I can't emphasize enough the necessity of having practical, real-life working experience. Students who would like to make the move to industry should work in a commercial environment as soon as possible. Getting involved in good projects doesn't "just happen" to students; you need to go to companies and actively find out what they are doing and how you can get involved. A good place to start might be asking about academic-industrial collaborations and consortiums in which your faculty is involved.