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Work begins on groundbreaking big-data facility

14 June 2012

Handling, storing and interpreting large volumes of data is a big priority when translating science out of the lab and into the wider world. As ground is broken at a new bioscience facility in Cambridgeshire, a new chapter begins for bioinformatics and excitement builds about its potential to offer fast and efficient access to large biological data sets.

Work has officially begun on a new bioinformatics Technical Hub, part-funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). The development is fuelled by a £75M grant from the UK government for the expansion of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory's European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) and its role in coordinating ELIXIR, the nascent research infrastructure for life science data.

Bioinformatics is the application of computer science to biology. The new build - and the funding that makes it possible - represents a growing awareness of the potential benefits to society that bioinformatics can bring, including improvements to health, agriculture and climatic change. Major support for the new build comes from BBSRC, the Medical Research Council (MRC), the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Wellcome Trust.

Bioscience research continues to generate massive amounts of data of direct interest to the wider UK and European academic communities. With increased UK funding of high-throughput DNA sequencing technologies, the amount of valuable data and genetic information generated is ever expanding.

These increasing data sets require increased resource to ensure that they can be effectively accessed and exploited. Funding for this new bioinformatics facility provides infrastructure to secure the sustainability and continuity of EMBL-EBI services as the core European repository for all major molecular biology data to industry and academia. It will also help to retain pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry research capability, as well as consolidating the UK's leading position in bioscience research at the centre of European research infrastructure.

In a speech at the ground-breaking event to officially start the development work, Alf Game, acting BBSRC Research Director, said: "As we move towards a greater understanding of biology at the systems level, access to many different types of large biological data sets is crucial. Together with the associated availability of bioinformatics services, this information has become invaluable for research discoveries and their translation out of the lab and into industrial or clinical settings."

By providing these new services to life-scientists, EMBL-EBI will continue to provide efficient access to data generated in the UK, across Europe and more widely. This investment by the UK will act as a catalyst to European-wide investment into the ELIXIR project to create sustainable infrastructure for biological information across Europe and to offer the best facilities, training and support for researchers in both academia and in industry.

In addition to the impact for bioscience, the development is also helping to boost the local economy through the creation of jobs in sectors like construction. The contract for construction has been awarded to Willmott Dixon, a privately owned capital works company based in Hertfordshire that is committed to sustainable building.

The new three-storey Technical Hub will feature a training centre, office space for approximately 200 EMBL-EBI and ELIXIR employees, and an industry-led clinical translation suite for bioinformatics.

Ground-breaking event: Adrian Pugh, BBSRC; Alf Game, BBSRC; Rolf Apweiler, EMBL-EBI; Ewan Birney, EMBL-EBI; Janet Thornton, EMBL-EBI; Mark Green, EMBL-EBI; Chris Tredget, Willmott Dixon
Elixir ground-breaking event: Adrian Pugh, BBSRC; Alf Game, BBSRC; Rolf Apweiler, EMBL-EBI; Ewan Birney, EMBL-EBI; Janet Thornton, EMBL-EBI; Mark Green, EMBL-EBI; Chris Tredget, Willmott Dixon



The European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) is part of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) and is located on the Wellcome Trust Genome Campus in Hinxton near Cambridge, UK. The EBI grew out of EMBL's pioneering work in providing public biological databases to the research community. It hosts some of the world's most important collections of biological data, including DNA sequences (ENA), protein sequences (UniProt), animal genomes (Ensembl), 3D structures (the Protein Databank in Europe), data from gene expression experiments (ArrayExpress), protein-protein interactions (IntAct) and pathway information (Reactome). EMBL-EBI hosts several research groups and its scientists continually develop new tools for the biocomputing community.

About EMBL

The European Molecular Biology Laboratory is a basic research institute funded by public research monies from 20 member states (Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom) and associate member state Australia. Research at EMBL is conducted by approximately 85 independent groups covering the spectrum of molecular biology. The Laboratory has five units: the main Laboratory in Heidelberg, and outstations in Grenoble, Hamburg, Hinxton and Monterotondo (near Rome). The cornerstones of EMBL's mission are: to perform basic research in molecular biology; to train scientists, students and visitors at all levels; to offer vital services to scientists in the member states; to develop new instruments and methods in the life sciences and to actively engage in technology transfer activities. Around 190 students are enrolled in EMBL's International PhD programme. Additionally, the Laboratory offers a platform for dialogue with the general public through science communication activities such as lecture series, visitor programmes and the dissemination of scientific achievements.


The purpose of ELIXIR is to develop a sustainable infrastructure for biological information in Europe. Central to its success is the generation of stable funding for Europe's most important publicly accessible databases of molecular biological information, and the development of a compute infrastructure that can cope with the data deluge. ELIXIR is one of 44 research infrastructures recommended by the European Strategy Forum for Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) as being of key strategic importance to Europe's future. ELIXIR will provide data resources; bio-compute centres; an infrastructure for integration of biological data, software tools and services; support for other European infrastructures in biomedical and environmental research; and bioinformatics training for scientists. ELIXIR supports researchers working to meet the European Grand Challenges, including healthcare for an aging population; a sustainable food supply; competitive pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries; and protection of the environment.


BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by Government, and with an annual budget of around £445M (2011-2012), we support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

For more information about BBSRC, our science and our impact see:
For more information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes see:

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