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Free access to world-class biological databases for European science thanks to FELICS

A unique electronic infrastructure project funded by the European Union is launched today

Today the European Molecular Biology Laboratory’s (EMBL) European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI), the Swiss Institute for Bioinformatics (SIB), the University of Cologne, Germany, and the European Patent Office launch FELICS (Free European Life-science Information and Computational Services). The new project, coordinated by the EBI, will give researchers unrestricted access to some of the world’s most important biological databases. The Commission of the European Union has awarded 16.7 million Euro under the Research Infrastructures action of the sixth Framework Programme (FP6) for the project to develop, enhance and interlink many of the most important data resources in Europe and widen their accessibility to the scientific community worldwide. This is the largest ever European award for computational infrastructures needed to support biological research.

The EBI is Europe’s largest curator and disseminator of biological information, and has played a leading role in ensuring that information from genomes, for example, is freely provided to scientists and the public. Its predecessor, the EMBL Data Library, launched the world’s first universal public database of DNA sequences in the early 1980s. FELICS encompasses many of the EBI’s familiar databases, but will also feature some crucial new activities. Support for BRENDA, the University of Cologne’s enzyme database, will release it from its current licensing constraints and provide unrestricted access to its data. FELICS will also offer specific support for the extraction of information from patent literature in collaboration with the European Patent Office, who will also collaborate closely on CheBI, a database of chemical entities of biological interest, which will receive a substantial boost as part of the project.

“Bioinformatics now pervades biology,” says Graham Cameron, Associate Director of the EBI and coordinator of FELICS. “Bioinformatics experts no longer sit between biologist and database. Researchers expect to directly access the databases and do real work. FELICS gives scientists the electronic right to roam the biological knowledge space. Userfriendly software, developed within FELICS and other Commission-funded projects, will facilitate navigation of that space.”

Biomolecular databases are a crucial scientific infrastructure. The EBI site currently receives around 2 million hits every day, and even the most conservative estimates suggest a rise to ten million during the next five years. The need for centralised public information resources to provide global services for basic and applied biomolecular and biomedical research can only increase.

“With other support from the EU and the EMBL Member States, the EBI coordinates several FP6 networks of excellence between leading European institutes in bioinformatics and is involved in many others. These connections will ensure that the benefits of FELICS spread far beyond the four partners involved in the project,” Cameron says.

Tags: biological data, database, EU funding, Research infrastructure

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