EMBL-ABR 2017 Annual Report now online

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EMBL-ABR 2017 Annual Report now online

Category : news

May 2018

Our hard work over 2017 has been colourfully documented and is now available here ONLINE and as print copies. Below are reflections on the year from our key leaders:

Mr Jason Williams

Chair, International Scientific Advisory Group (ISAG)

It’s my pleasure to convey the International Science Advisory Group’s congratulations on the progress the EMBL-ABR hub and network has made over the past year. The presentation by Dr Ute Baumann – of the new Adelaide node – at our year-end ISAG call made it clear that there is an important role for the activities EMBL-ABR supports, and that the community believes in the value of these activities. Key to EMBL-ABR’s success is its strategic vision to serve as a national network with global connections – unifying and enhancing the efforts and success of its members. We truly believe EMBL-ABR can accomplish this vision.

At the 2016 All Hands meeting the following priorities were identified for 2017: to build relationships with international bioinformatics efforts to generate more activity around training, data, tools and standards; to deliver more tangible outcomes for the nodes; and, among other things, to grow the network. I am pleased to report on behalf of the ISAG that 2017 was a year in which significant progress has been made towards these goals.

Particular credit for these achievements must be paid to Vicky Schneider, whose vision and efforts generated so much energy and cooperation.

The ISAG was particularly pleased to see a successful trial of the hybrid method of delivering Australia-wide workshops featuring international experts; the ongoing work to list Australian training on the TeSS database; greater representation on international efforts such as GOBLET and ISCB; and, the addition of two important new nodes. These activities should serve as models for future achievements. We look forward to EMBL-ABR and its network members continuing to engage and expand because these collaborations are ultimately foundations for collaborations that enhance Australia’s capability to deliver high impact science in areas such as agriculture, biomedicine, and biodiversity.

For 2018, one major focus is to find the most efficient and effective ways to serve the ever-growing demand for skills and resources in the wider life science community, while continuing to address the needs of professional bioinformaticians. As always, the ISAG looks forward to seeing how this vision evolves in 2018 and offers our full support.

Assoc Prof Vicky Schneider

Deputy Director to June 2017

The year started well with the addition of the University of Adelaide as our 11th node. This was followed later in the year by Southern Cross University, making a total of 12 at the end of 2017.

It was excellent to see colleagues invited onto international committees such as Saravanan Dalayan (Metobolomics Australia node) on the Global Organisation for Bioinformatics Learning, Education and Training (GOBLET) Standards Committee and Sonika Tyagi (Monash node) in their Learning, Education and Training Committee. Simon Gladman (Melbourne Bioinformatics node) also joined me in meetings with EBI and ELIXIR in the UK, particularly to discuss ways the Australian-made Genomics Virtual Laboratory might be deployed across Europe.

My special thanks to my colleague, Monica Monez-Torres for helping EMBL-ABR achieve one of the major objectives for 2017, a hybrid model of workshop delivery which I followed with interest from my new workplace in the UK. Congratulations to all involved in making this work, it certainly demonstrated what can be achieved from greater cooperation across this growing network. In 2017 our social media presence grew by 63%, new visitors to the website by 69% and newsletter subscribers by 25%. Thank you to many colleagues who agreed to be interviewed for our Open Science Interview Series, which gave a broad perspective to how important open science is to the practice of bioinformatics.

We also published three journal articles during the year: Griffin et al, Best practice data life cycle approaches for the life sciences, F1000Research, August 2017, which documented the collaborative efforts of those involved in the 2016 EMBL-ABR Data Life Cycle workshops; Schneider et al, A global perspective on evolving bioinformatics and data science training needs, Briefings in Bioinformatics, August 2017; and, Schneider et al, Establishing a distributed national research infrastructure providing bioinformatics support to life science researchers in Australia, Briefings in Bioinformatics, June 2017.

These findings informed the priorities given to the Key Area activities of Compute, Data, (International) Standards, Platforms, Training and Tools.

My congratulations to all for a great effort and I look forward to following the progress of EMBL-ABR in 2018.

Assoc Prof Andrew Lonie


A highlight of 2017 was ending the year with the All Hands meeting hosted by Prof Marc Wilkins at the SBI node at the University of New South Wales. At that meeting we discussed our shared vision for an Australian Biosciences Data Capability (ABDC) which incorporates a lot of what we are already doing through EMBL-ABR, or are planning to do. I must thank Vicky Schneider for her contributions to the establishment and launch of EMBL-ABR over 2016-7. Vicky left us in the middle of the year with a great deal in place and a strong vision of what we might become as a network.

On our website now we describe ourselves as a backbone organisation delivering collective impact for the biosciences in Australia. This term comes from Turner et al, Understanding the Value of Backbone Organisations in Collective Impact, Stanford Social Innovation Review, July 2012. To demonstrate shared success and collective impact they ask some key questions:

Would this work be carried out by individual organisations/researchers in the same time frame?
We don’t believe so. Instead, world-class Australian researchers have been co-opted to activities which help to share their expertise across the research community.

Has the vision of the project now shifted to see a developing role for it in the future?
EMBL-ABR has certainly helped demonstrate and inform the lobbying efforts for the ABDC, which we expect to help secure funding for life sciences digital infrastructure.

Is there a role for the project in feeding back to users data from the project which in turn aids further community development?
Surveys, publications, interviews and training evaluation data have all been made available to the bioinformatics community across Australia and this is helping to form new collaborations and streamline training efforts to help deal with Australia’s tyranny of distance. Surveys carried out at the hub have provided important data which has affirmed the growing frustration in the research community for the lack of skills and the complexity of dealing with data. This has helped to set priorities for future action but also informed lobbying approaches for further infrastructure funding.

Can the project be used as an example to explain to the public the value of investment in these, often, invisible processes?
Infrastructure initiatives which support researchers to make their research data more accessible by industry, government and the wider community, not just expert bioinformaticians, is a major objective of the open science movement. Our network is currently focussed on projects which will generate community value in the fields of health, the environment and agriculture and 2018 will see an increase in this work.

For 2017, my special thanks goes to our esteemed ISAG for their sustained advocacy, support, advice and hard work and particular thanks to our co-funders, Prof James McCluskey, DVC/R, University of Melbourne and Mr Andrew Gilbert, General Manager, Bioplatforms Australia. Our further thanks to the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences who host the EMBL-ABR Hub via their support for Melbourne Bioinformatics.

We are already well-advanced with our plans for 2018 and hope that we’ll be engaging with many of you as we work to deliver more collective impact for the biosciences research community in Australia.

Yours sincerely

Assoc Prof Andrew Lonie, Director

Available here ONLINE. Hard copies are being sent out to key stakeholders, please contact Christina Hall if you would like to receive one.