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Miguel Rios, Interim CEO, National Center for Genome Resources

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AT A GLANCE

PhD in physics from the University of Maryland.

Served on technical staff of Sandia National Laboratories for 10 years before founding Orion International Technologies in 1985.

Avid collector of Latin American Art, enjoys literature and music, plays golf and polo.

Q Where will bioinformatics be in two years? Five years?

A Bioinformatics is an emerging interdisciplinary science and as such the methods of investigation are still in a nascent stage. Some of the universities are scrambling to bring together different disciplines and courses in biology, computer science, and math degrees, so I think through the next few years you’ll see a lot more people coming out with backgrounds in both biology and computer science or math.

On the technical side, I think we’ll continue to see the transfer of data management technologies from other domains to bioinformatics. But in the longer term I certainly expect to see a shift in emphasis from data management to data interpretation—better methods for data analysis, visualization, and modeling of complex biological systems.

QWhat are the biggest challenges the field of bioinformatics faces?

AWhat drives bioinformatics is the desire to predict phenotype from the various types of “omics“ data, but to do so we need to integrate heterogeneous data sources and software applications. There are a number of efforts going on for data integration at the enterprise level to integrate complex declarative queries across heterogeneous data sources. This type of technology will be essential for enterprise systems, but what strikes me is that from the bench-working level on up through the organization and up to the total enterprise, there’s still a dearth of infrastructure tools.

Q What particular problems do non-profit bioinformatics projects face?

AThe term “non-profit“ elicits a wide range of expectations from colleagues in academia and commercial sectors. To many it implies low- or no-cost R&D projects with subsequent free access to results and products. In reality the costs of running a non-profit are no different than running a for-profit. We have to be self-sustaining but we simply don’t pay dividends.

So I think like most non-profits we have the challenge of being self-sustaining. Secondly, retaining highly talented people who are in high demand in the commercial sector because we don’t have the incentive of stock options.

QHow do you compete with companies to attract and retain qualified bioinformaticists?

A It’s hard to compete with the commercial sector because of the salary perks and incentives. What is really helping us to forge forward is that our staff is young and dedicated and somewhat idealistic. They want to do something that is meaningful and that is what the upside of what NCGR is. What’s attracting people is that we have built a culture in which biologists and software developers work together on teams with mutual trust and respect.

It’s one of my primary objectives to continue to build on this, strengthen it, and build a world-class brain trust at NCGR.

QWhere does your funding come from? How much funding do you have?

AWe have an investment that has been generating money for NCGR for the past four years. That will continue to generate about one-fourth of our revenues. I hope to build our revenues up to $4-5 million over this coming year. A lot of that will have to come from grants and contracts. At the moment we have grants from the National Science Foundation, the US Department of Agriculture, and from foundations such as Noble, Novartis, and Rockefeller. I hope to expand that to other agencies and foundations and perhaps some collaborations with the commercial sector.

QWhat made you decide to enter a career in bioinformatics?

AI came from the NCGR board of directors and I can honestly tell you that the reason I took the job of president and CEO—albeit on an interim basis—was that the work at NCGR has been very good but was at a crucial stage where it could just be brought to users to greatly increase their capabilities in bioinformatics. I wanted to make sure that that happens.

Beyond that I think it’s a very exciting field.

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