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Infrastructure Cuts Hit Databases Hard

Funding shifts at the National Library of Medicine have put the future of five biological databases at risk, Nature reports.

Protégé, BioMagResBank, Repbase, REBASE, and CASP are all poised to lose funding due to a decision by NLM in 2007 to de-emphasize funding for data infrastructure in favor of informatics research.

Unfortunately, the situation is a familiar one among providers of biological databases. While researchers and funders readily acknowledge the importance of publicly available data, these resources don't fit within the mission of most funding agencies to support cutting-edge research. During the last couple of years, key databases like KEGG and the Arabidopsis Information Resource have moved to commercial models to support their operations because they lost their public funding.

Princeton University's David Botstein tells Nature that the funding system is "rigged against infrastructure of any kind" and predicts "many, many resources" will face a similar fate going forward. Botstein is a member of the NIH Data and Informatics Working Group, which recently published a draft report that calls for NIH to "invest in technology and tools needed to enable researchers to easily find, access, analyze, and curate research data."

Among other recommendations, the report notes that NIH funding for "methods and equipment to adequately represent, store, analyze, and disseminate data throughout their useful lifespan should be coupled to NIH funding toward generating those original data."

The funding problem is particularly acute as data volumes grow ever bigger. "This problem won't be going away," says Derek Lowe at In the Pipeline. "Molecular genetics, protein biology, and structural biology in general are producing vast piles of material. Having as much of it as possible brought together and curated is clearly in the best interest of scientific research — but again, who pays?"

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