Orla O’Sullivan spoke to Silicon Republic about her career as a leading computational biologist and how the sector has changed since she started out.

Even as a very young kid, Orla O’Sullivan always loved maths and science and there was never any doubt in her mind that she wanted to work in STEM when she was older.

Fast forward a few years and the computational biologist sat down with Silicon Republic CEO Ann O’Dea as part of its Creating The Future series spotlighting Irish research. In her work, O’Sullivan combines her interest in biology with a background in developmental bioinformatics.

Bioinformatics refers to the use of tech to collect and analyse biological data, such as DNA and amino acid sequences. It’s a wide-ranging, fast-evolving discipline – and people like O’Sullivan have to be willing to embrace new tech from handheld sequencers to computer programmes to get the best results.

“I think the world is driven by data,” O’Sullivan said of how bioinformatics has changed since she first got into it. She likes to tell the young people coming into the lab nowadays that seem to have this “fear of computers, this fear of data, the fear of maths” that bioinformatics isn’t really that scary and it is a rewarding and interesting career. “It’s unravelling data – the answers you get are amazing.”

“It’s more important to be able to interpret the results that are coming out of the software tools than it is to know the ‘ins and outs’ of bioinformatics.”


Words by Blathnaid O’Dea