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NCGR Restructures Organization To Carry Out New Mission, Cuts Informatics Staff

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SANTA FE, NM--In a decision that reflects its new mission as well as the effects of discontinued US Department of Energy funding for the Genome Sequence DataBase, the National Center for Genomic Resources (NCGR) here eliminated six bioinformatics positions last month and created several new job openings for scientists. Bob Dunkle, NCGR's president and CEO, told BioInform that the institute plans to increase its staff by more than 20 percent this year.

NCGR spokesperson Janine Hagerman explained that curating and developing the Genome Sequence DataBase was originally NCGR's main project. "Now we have a vision for an integrated program that has [several] components," she said.

According to NCGR's new mission, approved by its board of directors in October, the organization is now dedicated to "enhancing the understanding of life through research and the development and application of knowledge systems that support biological discovery." Goals for achieving that mission include to become a center of excellence in the development and application of knowledge systems for biological research focused on scientific methodology, bioinformatics, and computational biology; to be an internationally recognized leader in agricultural genomics; and to be a partner of choice for collaborations in biological knowledge systems.

Dunkle said the institute began last fall to reevaluate its role in the community of mostly academic biologists and government researchers it serves. "We tried to make an assessment of where we were in the marketplace relative to other players, what our constituency wanted from NCGR, and where we could provide value to them," he said. During the evaluation process, Dunkle said it became clear that as NCGR's contract with the Department of Energy came to an end "we would have to do something different as we moved forward."

NCGR will develop four core scientific programs, Dunkle said, "one in sequences, one in maps, one in expression, and one in biological and signal transduction pathways." He added, "We wanted to take a relatively broad view and do that through research and development and application of knowledge systems that support biological discovery."

While the institute aims to be "a place where people in this community can come and get information free of charge," Dunkle stressed that NCGR differentiates itself from repositories like GenBank. "Their job is to bring in new sequences, assign IC numbers, and become an archive," he said. "We want to take the data and recast it in a way that is easier to analyze."

With recent computational additions, including a Sun HPC 10000 Starfire server and two Time Logic DeCypher ES-1920 servers, Dunkle pointed out that NCGR "has quite an elaborate infrastructure of hardware and software." The institute intends to utilize that power to "put together an informatics system that will be available for the community at large to use" while maintaining a balance of science and information technology functions, letting "scientific questions drive IT activity," Dunkle asserted.

To support its new programs, NCGR has begun seeking candidates to fill several new jobs that will open up during the year. Dunkle said the institute will have slots for molecular genticists, computational biologists, scientists in complex traits, a bioinformatics scientist, and a bioinformatics director.

--Adrienne Burke

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