Wellcome Trust Announces Major Investment in Genome Bioinformatics
The Wellcome Trust today announced a major investment of at least £8 million over five years in the Ensembl project, the database providing automatic annotation of the human genome.
The increased resources in staff and computer power for the gene "software" will mean a much speedier collection and dissemination of information on the function of genes, greatly aiding the work of researchers around the world in finding new diagnostic methods and treatments for a huge variety of diseases.
"Mapping the human genome is an amazing scientific achievement with the power to touch the lives of everybody on the planet. It is important that information is made available in the most 'user-friendly' and complete way - and made available free of charge - and this is why the Ensembl project is so vital."
Dr Michael Dexter, Director of the Wellcome Trust
"Ensembl is a wonderful way of transmitting genetic information clearly and quickly across the world. Having such a reference centre, and a pipeline to the wider scientific world, will prove invaluable in the coming years in the fight against a wide range of illnesses."
Ensembl has been developed at the Sanger Centre and the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI - part of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory) on its Genome Campus in Hinxton, Cambridgeshire.
On June 26th an international consortium of public laboratories announced the first 'working draft' of the human genome sequence, which was hailed as one of the most outstanding scientific achievements of our lifetime. The public availability of this comprehensive genetic information presents huge opportunities to develop new treatments for diseases based on understanding of the basic molecular processes of life.
However, to understand and exploit the information in the genome, sophisticated computer methods must seek biological meaning by analysing the sequence. One important part of this is to locate genes, which make up only a small part (probably less than three per cent) of the total DNA in humans. The resulting "annotated" DNA sequence must then be made accessible to scientists throughout the world.
The aim of Ensembl is to provide the reference view of genome sequence data as a freely available resource for scientists and the public. Ensembl has been providing automatically generated analysis of human genome sequence since the end of 1999. Since the completion of the working draft the Ensembl team has been collaborating with other international public bioinformatics centres connected with the Human Genome Project to provide an ordered view of the working draft sequence for researchers as quickly as possible. A full analysis of the first version of the working draft, in which the fragments of genome sequence have been organised and connected into a whole, has already been made available via the Ensembl web site.
"This is a superb example of the synergy that is possible through collaborations of institutions in Europe and of the quality of work that is possible in the public domain."
Fotis Kafatos, Director-General of EMBL
"This is wonderful news for open, public domain bioinformatics. This grant will enable Ensembl to expand its team and give the project sufficient compute resources to process the avalanche of sequence data that is being generated."
Ewan Birney, who heads the Ensembl initiative from the EMBL-EBI side
"Since Ensembl went live in 1999, the Ensembl team have worked to provide researchers worldwide with both an integrated view of what our DNA means and the programming tools to develop their own ways of exploring that data."
The Ensembl project is based on an entirely 'open' philosophy: all data and program source code are available for the free and unrestricted use of both academic and commercial biomedical researchers worldwide. The Ensembl site and data resources are already being used by large numbers of researchers.
Software developers from both academia and major pharmaceutical companies have also begun participating in a totally open software collaboration with the Ensembl team to speed the development of the software.
"New resources such as Ensembl are critical to add value and organise raw sequence data being deposited in the public sequence archives and so maximise the benefit to mankind from this exciting era in science".
Graham Cameron, Joint Head of EBI
"Ensembl puts the genome on the desktop of biologists worldwide, and will provide key infrastructure for functional genomics programmes being pursued at the Sanger Centre and elsewhere."
Richard Durbin, Head of Informatics at the Sanger Centre
Although Ensembl plans to provide a comprehensive view of genomic data for biologists, it is structured so as to be as open as possible to ideas and data from other groups.
"The human genome is too complex for any organisation to have a monopoly of ideas or data."
Tim Hubbard, who heads the Ensembl initiative from the Sanger Centre side