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Canadian Bioinformatics Resource Gets Funding for Public Server

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HALIFAX, NS--Canada's National Research Council (NRC) has allocated $500,000 for the Canadian Bioinformatics Resource here to establish a public-access server for academic and government scientists involved in molecular biology, genomics, and bioinformatics research, project manager Christoph Sensen told BioInform earlier this month.

Although an official announcement is not planned until late June, the project is already underway, according to Sensen, who is a research officer at NRC's Institute for Marine Biosciences and is known for his work three years ago developing the Multipurpose Automated Genome Project Investigation Environment (MAGPIE), a genome analysis and annotation system that was created in collaboration with Argonne National Lab researcher Terry Gaasterland.

The monies will be used to purchase computers and related hardware for a public server intended to give Canadians quicker genomic data access and to mirror services of international servers such as the European Molecular Biology Network. Sensen said the Canadian Bioinformatics Resource will acquire a major UNIX server equipped with 12 high-end 250 MHz CPU's, 2 gigabytes of RAM, and 128 gigabytes of disk space to serve bioinformatics applications and databases.

"Researchers will have one-stop shopping on a high performance computing system," Sensen said.

The public server will allow registered users to access a large number of bioinformatics applications and databases containing about 20 gigabytes of data and updated nightly. Users will get individual accounts and disk space to use applications directly on the server.

"We now have approximately 800 executables that could be used by individual users. This will enable them to store their own data and perform sophisticated bioinformatics analyses and research," Sensen explained. Users will gain access to all expressed gene sequences and a variety of database query systems and comparison tools to allow retrieval of specific information, he said.

The CA*net link

An anticipated special academic discount on the hardware from Sun Microsystems of Canada will enable the Bioinformatics Resource to acquire sufficient computing power to create what Sensen predicted will be Canada's first high-performance computing facility operating on its "next generation" internet, CAnet II, a high-speed communications network spanning the country (see BioInform, August 4, 1997).

In fact, the new bioinformatics server is the second phase of a CAnet II-based project that began two years ago with the creation of an intranet linking five NRC institutes. That $650,000 endeavor created a wide-area network on Sun UNIX computers, to link NRC's Biotechnology Research Institute in Montreal with the Canadian Institute for Scientific and Technical Information in Ottawa, the Institute for Biological Sciences in Ottawa, the Institute for Marine Biosciences in Halifax, and the Plant Biotechnology Institute in Saskatoon through CAnet II.

Details for continued financing for the server will be worked out in coming weeks, Sensen said. "A stable source of operating funds remains to be secured. Just getting the $500,000 is not enough. That only buys the machines," he said.

Industrial partners sought

Corporate support is one possibility. NRC will establish and maintain the new bioinformatics-dedicated computer facility, but it is in discussions with potential industrial partners such as Base4 Bioinformatics that could administer the facility as NRC's agent.

Sensen is optimistic that partners will provide the funding necessary to keep the service available at a cost recovery basis. "We want services to be offered for no more than a nominal fee to allow as many researchers as possible to benefit from the new infrastructure," he explained.

Sensen said that NRC strives to work for the good of Canada by addressing national needs for advancing scientific and technical knowledge. "Our fundamental objective is to foster economic benefits for Canada. Knowing this, it is quite natural for us to work with Canadian companies, such as Base4 in Toronto and Biotools in Edmonton, and perhaps help them to achieve a competitive advantage in the international marketplace," he said.

The Canadian Bioinformatics Resource is accessible at http://www.cbr.nrc.ca.

--Cheryl LaRocque

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