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UBC to Shutter Bioinformatics Center; Director, Support Staff Seeking New Posts

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The University of British Columbia will no longer support the UBC Bioinformatics Center, UBiC, which will close its doors on March 30, BioInform has learned.
 
Francis Ouellette, who has served as director of UBiC since it was created in 2002, told BioInform this week that the position was not tenured, so he is currently seeking a new post, as are several members of the UBiC support staff.
 
The UBiC website lists 16 staffers, including Ouellette, as well as 17 associate faculty who will remain with their current departments within the university.
 
Ouellette said that the decision to close the center was a financial one, coupled with “a change of vision” in the upper tiers of UBC. “The university decided that it didn’t have the money to support the center any more,” Ouellette said.
 
A message on the UBiC home page explains that the core facility, which provides access to bioinformatics tools and servers and helpdesk support for UBC researchers, will terminate access to user accounts and shut down server access at the end of the month. 
 
The note advises users “to finish any work and to transfer any files off the server(s) before March 30th.”
 
Ouellette said that around 600 researchers had user accounts at UBiC, with around 50 “regular” users. “Most of those are going to have to go back to the old way, which is basically everyone on their own, figuring out how to do it by themselves,” he said.
 
“That’s obviously not the way I think it should be done,” he said, “but it’s the university’s decision and I’m a bit out of the loop now.”
 
UBiC, Canada’s first university-based bioinformatics core facility, was created in 2002 as a collaboration between the UBC Biotechnology Laboratory, the UBC Center for Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics, and the UBC Faculties of Science and Medicine. External partners included Genome BC, the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, the BC Cancer Agency, and the Children's and Women's Health Center of BC.
 
The center was funded by UBC, as well as several external sources, but without the financial support of the university it could not survive.
 
Ouellette noted that the core facility model is difficult to maintain for bioinformatics. “Most universities still haven’t figured out how to maintain and support this kind of activity,” he said. “It’s not like a proteomics facility or something like that. There are no chargeable goods, really. As a fee-for-service [model], it doesn’t work, so the university has to see that it’s important and they have to decide to support it.”
 
UBiC’s closure doesn’t signal the end of bioinformatics at UBC, which is “quite well-positioned to do without a center in the sense that there are 20-plus card-carrying bioinformaticians on campus,” Ouellette said.
 
However, he noted, “It’s just not going to be coordinated and centralized and there’s not going to be anyone leading the effort.”

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