21 April 2010

Institute researcher wins Benjamin Franklin award

Alex Bateman honoured for promoting open access in the life sciences

Dr Alex Bateman.

Dr Alex Bateman. [Wellcome Library, London]

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Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute researcher, Dr Alex Bateman, has been presented with the Benjamin Franklin Award for Open Access in the Life Sciences. The humanitarian or bioethics award is presented annually by the Bioinformatics Organization to "an individual who has, in his or her practice, promoted free and open access to the materials and methods used in the life sciences."

Alex joined the Sanger Institute in 1997 with the ambitious goal of completely and accurately classifying protein domains in the human genome. As part of this endeavour, Alex has established the freely available Pfam database. He later went on to found the Rfam database of non coding RNAs. Both are used by researchers worldwide to classify protein and RNA sequences and answer questions about what they do and how they have evolved.

"I am honoured to be chosen for this award," says Alex. "Open access to the resources that my team has developed is fundamental to the success of our research. It is also a fundamental tenet of the Sanger Institute.

"I firmly believe that making resources and tools available will be at the heart of important scientific discoveries and I am thrilled that the work of my team over the years has been recognised by an organisation built on these principles of open access."

Alex joins an illustrious list of previous winners including Michael Ashburner, former Director of the Sanger Institute's neighbouring European Bioinformatics Institute; and Sean Eddy, one of Alex's principal collaborators in the creation of the Pfam database. Alex describes the list of previous winners as "a big influence during my scientific career" and says that they have taught him "the value of free software and free data."

Alex's papers describing the Pfam database are among the most cited of the Institute's research output, with more than 6400 citations. His 2004 paper has received an average of 20 citations per month.

"The principles and drive underlying all of Alex's research efforts make him an especially deserving recipient of this award," says Mike Stratton, Acting Director of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. "The databases he has developed at the Institute set a world standard in their impact, not only in terms of the quality of the data, but also in terms of the open access to the resources they provide.

"But Alex's contributions to Bioinformatics community are wider still."

" I am honoured to be chosen for this award. Open access to the resources that my team has developed is fundamental to the success of our research. It is also a fundamental tenet of the Sanger Institute. "

Dr Alex Bateman

In 2008, Alex drove a new move to incorporate Wikipedia annotation into Rfam, an initiative that has broadened access to research and improved the scientific content of Wikipedia. Alex also currently holds the post of Executive Editor for the journal Bioinformatics and is Director of Graduate Studies at the Sanger Institute, a key role in helping to develop the next generation of researchers.

Alex earned his first degree in Biochemistry from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in 1994 and went on to complete his PhD, looking at the evolution of the sequence and structure of the immunoglobin superfamily, at the University of Cambridge's Laboratory of Molecular Biology.

The Franklin Award is named in honour of scientist, inventor and statesman Benjamin Franklin - selected by the Bioinformatics Organization as the embodiment of the "best traits of a scientist": a person who "freely and openly shared his ideas and refused to patent his inventions".

Notes to Editors

The Benjamin Franklin Award for Open Access in the Life Sciences is a humanitarian/bioethics award presented annually by the Bioinformatics Organization to an individual who has, in his or her practice, promoted free and open access to the materials and methods used in the life sciences.
http://www.bioinformatics.org/franklin/

The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, which receives the majority of its funding from the Wellcome Trust, was founded in 1992. The Institute is responsible for the completion of the sequence of approximately one-third of the human genome as well as genomes of model organisms and more than 90 pathogen genomes. In October 2006, new funding was awarded by the Wellcome Trust to exploit the wealth of genome data now available to answer important questions about health and disease.

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The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. We support the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. Our breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. We are independent of both political and commercial interests.

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