BBSRC and EMBL-EBI welcome UK funds earmarked for major bioscience data infrastructure project
9 February 2011
The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory's European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) welcome news that funding has been earmarked from the UK's Large Facilities Capital Fund for ELIXIR - the European Life-science Infrastructure for Biological Information - as announced today (9 February 2011).
ELIXIR is a pan-European initiative that aims to operate a sustainable infrastructure for biological information in Europe. It will provide public access to the information on the building blocks of life, including genes, proteins and complex networks. This will support life science research and its translation to medicine and the environment, the bio-industries and society to deliver economic growth to the UK, Europe and beyond. Consistent with the movement towards open access to data and publications, ELIXIR will make important information freely available to researchers across academia and industry.
This project, if approved, will allow the construction of ELIXIR's central hub at EMBL-EBI in Hinxton near Cambridge, ensuring the maintenance and expansion of essential biological data resources to support bioscience researchers working in many disciplines. ELIXIR works through a network of nodes distributed throughout Europe and coordinated at EMBL-EBI.
BBSRC leads the funding strategy element of the project and has already contributed £10M funding towards the establishment of ELIXIR. The Medical Research Council, the Natural Environment Research Council and the Wellcome Trust also support ELIXIR. Denmark, Finland, Spain and Sweden have already committed funds towards developing the ELIXIR network.
Professor Douglas Kell, Chief Executive, BBSRC said: "This is really excellent news for the European bioscience community. In this post-genomic world, the life sciences are generating vast amounts of data. Storing and curating them in central locations is the best way and most efficient way to make them available in digestible forms. To benefit from the information they contain we have to be able to mine such data for answers to many of the current problems in chemical, molecular and sub-cellular biology, and also to apply them in the context of systems and predictive models. To this end, ELIXIR offers essential services to the modern life sciences community, and these need both to be expanded and to be maintained. Only in this way can we make the most of previous and future investments in research in biology and biotechnology."
Professor Janet Thornton, Director of EMBL-EBI and coordinator of ELIXIR said "This support from the UK Government lays the foundation for ELIXIR. This is the first step towards building a distributed infrastructure for biological information throughout Europe. By providing public access to the wealth of knowledge generated by the global research community, we will empower researchers in academia and industry to solve some of society's most pressing problems".
ELIXIR has the potential to transform biosciences research leading to major advances in:
- Healthy ageing - Linking biomedical and biological data resources to facilitate understanding of diseases of old age; drive earlier diagnosis; and improve disease prevention and management.
- Food security - Easy access to genomes of animals, plants, insects and pathogens for crop improvement and improved health, welfare, and productivity of livestock.
- Biotech and pharma industry - Facilitation of pre-commercial research collaborations with the potential to attract more companies to Europe.
- Environmental change - Support for researchers who are monitoring ocean life; understanding effects of climate change on species diversity; and developing new methods to tackle pollution and waste. Also, the development of new plant-based sources for sustainable bioenergy.
- Bioenergy and industrial biotechnology - Access to the very diverse genomes and metagenomes of plants and microbes, as well as biochemical data derived therefrom, to support research into sustainable bioenergy and industrial biotechnology applications.
There is great potential for ELIXIR to support the maintenance and development of the knowledge-based bioeconomy in the UK and Europe and promote the development of Europe-based R&D business in a range of fields including pharmaceuticals and agriculture.
The European Molecular Biology Laboratory is a basic research institute funded by public research monies from 20 member states (Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom) and associate member state Australia. Research at EMBL is conducted by approximately 85 independent groups covering the spectrum of molecular biology. The Laboratory has five units: the main Laboratory in Heidelberg, and Outstations in Hinxton (the European Bioinformatics Institute), Grenoble, Hamburg, and Monterotondo near Rome. The cornerstones of EMBL's mission are: to perform basic research in molecular biology; to train scientists, students and visitors at all levels; to offer vital services to scientists in the member states; to develop new instruments and methods in the life sciences and to actively engage in technology transfer activities. Around 190 students are enrolled in EMBL's International PhD programme. Additionally, the Laboratory offers a platform for dialogue with the general public through various science communication activities such as lecture series, visitor programmes and the dissemination of scientific achievements. www.embl.org
The European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) is part of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) and is located on the Wellcome Trust Genome Campus in Hinxton near Cambridge (UK). The EBI grew out of EMBL's pioneering work in providing public biological databases to the research community. It hosts some of the world's most important collections of biological data, including DNA sequences (EMBL-Bank), protein sequences (UniProt), animal genomes (Ensembl), three-dimensional structures (the Protein Databank in Europe), data from gene expression experiments (ArrayExpress), protein-protein interactions (IntAct) and pathway information (Reactome). The EBI hosts several research groups and its scientists continually develop new tools for the biocomputing community. www.ebi.ac.uk
The purpose of ELIXIR is to develop the plan for a sustainable infrastructure for biological information in Europe. This plan focuses on generating stable funding for Europe's most important publicly accessible databases of molecular biological information, and the development of a compute infrastructure that can cope with the biological data deluge. ELIXIR is one of 44 research infrastructures recommended by the European Strategy Forum for Research Infrastructures (ESFRI, http://cordis.europa.eu/esfri/) as being of key strategic importance to Europe's future. ELIXIR holds a special place among these because it will provide infrastructure for the other biological, medical and environmental research infrastructures being developed. ELIXIR will provide: data resources; bio-compute centres; an infrastructure for integration of biological data, software tools and services throughout and beyond Europe; support for other European infrastructures in biomedical and environmental research; and services for the research community, including training and standards development. This will enable ELIXIR's users to meet the European Grand Challenges, which are almost all biological, namely: healthcare for an aging population, a sustainable food supply, competitive pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries and protection of the environment. To date, Finland, Denmark, Spain, Sweden and the UK have committed funds to ELIXIR and the project is actively seeking the support of other nations. www.elixir-europe.org
Mary Todd Bergman, EMBL-EBI Outreach Programme Project Leader, Hinxton, UK
tel: 01223 494665
Katrina Pavelin, EMBL-EBI Scientific Outreach Officer, Hinxton, UK
tel: 01223 494452
Sonia Furtado, EMBL Press Officer, Heidelberg, Germany
tel: 01223 494452
EMBI Press Office
BBSRC is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £470M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life in the UK and beyond and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders, including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.
BBSRC provides institute strategic research grants to the following:
- The Babraham Institute
- Institute for Animal Health
- Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (Aberystwyth University)
- Institute of Food Research
- John Innes Centre
- The Genome Analysis Centre
- The Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh)
- Rothamsted Research
The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.