UKRI funding set to transform EMBL-EBI bioinformatics capability

UKRI is set to invest more than £80 million in the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), part of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL).

The investment from UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) Infrastructure Fund will transform EMBL-EBI’s technical infrastructure to meet the rising data needs of the life sciences community.

Leading the bioinformatics revolution

EMBL-EBI is a global leader in the storage, analysis and dissemination of large biological datasets.

Scientists across the globe submit their research data to EMBL-EBI.

The institute curates, annotates and analyses the data, integrating it into the global biodata ecosystem.

Managing data

EMBL-EBI manages data across more than 40 specialised and interconnected open data resources.

This enables millions of scientists around the world to realise the potential of big data and exploit complex information for discoveries that benefit humankind.

A 2021 independent economic study found that the data resources managed by EMBL-EBI are critical to research and innovation, underpinning global research impacts estimated to be worth £1.3 billion annually.

A foundational research infrastructure

Dr Amanda Collis, Interim Deputy Executive Chair at the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), part of UKRI, said:

Since its inception 30 years ago, EMBL-EBI has become a foundational global research infrastructure.

The data resources, tools and services developed by EMBL-EBI are essential for researchers in delivering bio-based solutions for the challenges we face as a society.

We are pleased to continue to support EMBL-EBI in its mission to make research data freely and openly available to the world.

This enables scientific discoveries in all areas of bioscience, from food security to infectious disease, genomic medicine and biodiversity conservation.

Supporting the world’s growing data needs

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, EMBL-EBI has seen a sharp increase in the volumes of data researchers deposit in its data archives.

The number of researchers using EMBL-EBI’s services has also doubled.

The growth of new technologies including genomic sequencing, bioimaging and artificial intelligence (AI) are key drivers of the increased data production and usage.

Pushing boundaries

The vast, information-rich datasets made accessible by EMBL-EBI are ideal for training AI algorithms that can help push the boundaries of scientific knowledge even further.

EMBL-EBI is working with academia and the private sector to support the development of useful AI methods and other novel technologies for healthcare, biotechnology and the wider life sciences.

The unsung hero of scientific discovery

Ewan Birney, Director of EMBL-EBI and Deputy Director General of EMBL, said:

Research infrastructures are often taken for granted.

Because data resources are so critical, it is assumed they will always be there.

But in reality, they require sustained, robust funding in order to adapt to the changing needs of their user communities.

We are extremely grateful to UKRI for their continued support.

They have shown a deep understanding of how crucial infrastructure and the free flow of research data is for scientific discovery.

Meeting rising demand

UKRI’s investment will help EMBL-EBI accommodate the rising production of publicly-funded research data through the provision of:

  • storage
  • networking
  • computing
  • cloud infrastructure

It will accelerate data-driven approaches to life science research and increase research productivity through data curation and provision of data analysis tools.

Addressing global challenges

It will also develop new data resources specific to serious global challenges, such as:

  • antimicrobial resistance
  • security of food supply
  • environmental integrity
  • personalised medicine

The funding will also help the institute develop data sharing and analysis methods for new data types such as bioimaging.

Harnessing the power of biodata

Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, Chief Executive of UKRI, said:

As a hub of global excellence in bioinformatics, EMBL-EBI’s work is pivotal in harnessing the power of biological data for transformative scientific discoveries.

By enhancing EMBL-EBI’s capabilities, we are ensuring that the global research community has the tools and resources necessary to meet rapidly evolving global challenges.

We are committed to fostering a data-rich research environment where research and innovation thrive, creating benefits for all.

Supporting global life sciences

Edith Heard, EMBL Director General, said:

EMBL would like to thank UKRI for their long-standing backing of the important work taking place at EMBL-EBI to support the life sciences globally.

Multinational organisations such as EMBL play an important role in knowledge exchange, capacity building and supporting scientific progress worldwide.

This funding is part of the second phase of EMBL-EBI’s data resources for life sciences programme.

The first phase started in 2019 when UKRI awarded £45 million to EMBL-EBI.

Top image:  EMBL-EBI data centre. Credit: EMBL-EBI

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