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EBI Expands Hinxton Facility to Keep Ahead of the Bioinformatics Data Curve

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The European Bioinformatics Institute has opened a new wing at its Hinxton, UK, campus as it plans to grow its staff by around 70 positions, or 20 percent, and offer training programs.
 
Last week, the EBI officially opened the 21,700-square-foot East Wing, which will provide what EBI Director Janet Thornton called much-needed space for the institute’s expanding headcount.
 
She told BioInform by e-mail this week that EBI’s headcount is currently around 350, up from 70 when it was founded in 1995.
 
The institute plans to hire around 70 more staffers “to handle the flood of all types of data” that EBI currently manages, Thornton said. “All our data resources are growing rapidly. There are also several new data resources for new types of data,” she said, citing proteomic, metagenomic, and protein-protein-interaction data in particular.
 
In addition, Thornton said, fueling the need for expanding the headcount are new technologies such as improved sequencing methods, “which will allow us to map human variation and its relationship to diseases,” and the “increasing use of data for applications in medicine, agriculture, and industry.” .
 
In particular, she said that the new wing will allow EBI to focus on three main areas: human variation, chemoinformatics, and “expanding our literature efforts.”
 
The new wing also includes a new training room, “which will allow us to provide advanced training in bioinformatics — specifically on how to make best use of the data in our public data resources," Thornton said.
 
The training room, which has a capacity of up to 80 participants, allows EBI to offer training courses in-house for the first time, Thornton said. EBI is starting a new series of these training courses, which are open to all academics and to industry, she said.
 

"All our data resources are growing rapidly. There are also several new data resources for new types of data.”

The Wellcome Trust, the UK’s Medical Research Council and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory provided a total of around £15 million ($31.3 million) for the new wing, which took five years to approve.
 
Thornton said the proposal process for the expansion began more than five years ago.
 
In a statement, Professor Iain Mattaj, EMBL's director general, said that EMBL is “proud” of EBI’s work and that the East Wing “will enable further strengthening of these contributions."
 
Thornton said that the new wing comes as bioinformatics is "stabilizing after several years of fluctuations.”
 
The discipline “has become very diverse,” she said, “with different experts in different fields — stretching from statistics to mathematics, which are very important in handling expression data and systems biology modeling, to text mining and literature analysis."
 
While the expanded facility at EBI is likely to help address the data challenges associated by these changes, Thornton noted that “such challenges cannot be met just by EMBL at the EBI” and stressed that the community needs to create “a sustainable life sciences infrastructure for biological information.”
 
As an example, she cited an EU-funded project called the European Life Sciences Infrastructure for Biological Information, or ELIXIR, which is “exploring” how to address this issue.
 
“The future will almost certainly involve a strong network of information hubs around the world, linking to more specialized resources, developed in research laboratories,” she said.
 
Further information about ELIXIR is available here.

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