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Germany s New Centers of Excellence Support Bioinformatics Tools, Standards, and Training

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Over the next five years, Germany''s Federal Ministry for Education and Research will fund six regional bioinformatics centers of excellence with a total of DM 100 million ($45.5 million).

The funding effort, called the Bioinformatics Training and Technology Initiative, is part of the ministry''s Biotechnology 2000 program. Each center includes both academic and industry partners in an effort to foster public/private collaboration in the field.

The primary goals of the program are to develop new bioinformatics tools, to create unified standards for data integration, and to train new bioinformaticists. “We want to strengthen the significance of bioinformatics in Germany,” said Christoph Wennemann, who is coordinating the effort.

The six centers — located in and around Berlin, Braunschweig, Cologne, Gatersleben/Halle, Jena, and Munich — will each focus on a specific research area (see below). Between four and nine institutions, including at least one commercial enterprise, collaborate in each region.

The centers were selected in March from 18 applications and were invited to submit a detailed project plan. Initial funding for the selected participants began in August.

In addition to meeting research goals, each center is required to provide a short-term training program in bioinformatics to “alleviate the immense lack of bioinformaticists in Germany,” said Wennemann. “Industry is virtually sucking them away.”

The Berlin center, for example, will receive about DM 20 million, which it will use to integrate ongoing genomics and bioinformatics research and to fund an existing postgraduate training program at the University of Applied Sciences in Berlin.

Specifically, the organizations that make up the Berlin center are working toward developing new methods for genome annotation and gene expression. “We are trying to accompany genome research in the various steps from genome annotation through functional genomics, gene expression analysis, and all the way to modeling,” said Martin Vingron of the Max-Planck-Institute for Molecular Genetics, the leading partner of the Berlin center. Genomatix — a spin-off from the GSF National Research Center for Environment and Health, the leading partner of the Munich center — will receive DM 1.5 million of the approximately DM 20 million earmarked for that region.

The funding will support the company’s efforts to extend its promoter detection and analysis technology into regulatory networks, while partners in the region will help to verify improvements by experiments.

Genomatix CEO Thomas Werner said the center “brings together excellent experimentalists with people from bioinformatics in a mutual feedback loop so that we can improve on both sides.”

The government does not foot the bill completely, however: Companies in the program have to contribute at least 50 percent of their own research costs, while academic groups are fully funded.

— JK

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