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EMBL-EBI expansion goes ahead with help from The Wellcome Trust and UK Research Councils

EMBL-EBI Hinxton

The European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) has received a big boost from The Wellcome Trust, the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), who have given funds to expand the EBI site in Hinxton, Cambridgeshire, UK. The new development will provide 1500 square metres of space which, together with their existing 3000 square metre building, will provide the space to house over 400 staff, an expansion needed for the EBI to stay at the forefront of bioinformatics in the coming years.

“We are absolutely thrilled that the UK agencies have agreed to support the expansion of the EMBL-EBI,” says Janet Thornton, the EBI’s Director. “We now have almost 300 people and the need for more space has become critical; some of our staff members are already in temporary accommodation.”

Iain Mattaj, EMBL’s Director-General, agrees that this funding for EBI’s new building hasn’t come a moment too soon. “EMBL’s Member States have supported this expansion since the need for it was raised over three years ago but we have always looked to the host country to help fund projects that involve new facilities. We’re delighted that the UK funding agencies have responded to our needs,” he says.

The expansion of the EBI will help EMBL realize goals in three important areas: bioinformatics services, research and training.

The EBI provides services that enable scientists to exploit a wide range of biomolecular information and the demand for the EBI has been tremendous. Since opening in 1995, with just 70 staff and two major databases, the EBI has met the changing needs of biologists by enhancing its existing resources and developing new ones. The EBI web site now averages 1.3 million hits a day, as researchers access information on many aspects of biology, from single genes to entire genomes, or an individual metabolite to every component in a pathway.

Graham Cameron, the EBI’s Associate Director, stresses that the EBI’s research and training initiatives need to grow in parallel with services. “Constant interaction between service and research staff helps our services to evolve in response to the needs of researchers, and gives our researchers access to an unparalleled wealth of expertise in data management. As we expand, adequate training also becomes more important, not only for the growing number of graduate students and postdocs at the EBI, but also for our users and collaborators.”

The EBI also coordinates two EU-funded networks of excellence working to ensure that Europe reaps the benefits from the wealth of bioinformatics expertise, important especially now during a move towards the European Research Area.

The Wellcome Trust recognizes the importance of the EBI as a global resource for scientists. Dr Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust, says: “The EBI is a global resource, providing completely open access to vast quantities of crucial biological data. It guides scientists through a maze of information provided by their colleagues from around the world. It provides an essential toolkit for biological research. Our support is a step in the right direction and we hope it will encourage others to commit to the long-term sustainability of Europe’s leading provider of bioinformatics expertise.”

Towards this end the EBI will seek further funding for the staff and equipment necessary to realize its goals.

Tags: BBSRC, Funding, MRC, The Wellcome Trust

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