Developing an Australian Bioinformatics Commons

Within five years we estimate there will be more than 30,000 Australian researchers (and somewhere around 200,000 students) in agriculture, environment and health, spread across multiple roles: bioinformaticians, researchers who use and rely on bioinformatics-driven techniques, and those (the majority) who are still lab-focussed, perhaps using online resources to interpret research findings. These groups will have a variety of data needs and a variety of skills, and they will increasingly be interacting with both local and global resources.

So, questions arise such as: What infrastructure and activity is needed now to support all to do world-class science? Within our Australian funding context (in particular, the NCRIS Roadmap), what should we prioritise to give us the greatest leverage to access international resources and collaborations? How might we anticipate the kind of transformative science envisaged in a more data-intense future?

At the EMBL-ABR All Hands meeting held in Melbourne late in 2016, key people working across data, infrastructure and bioinformatics discussed the future needs for biosciences data capability (digital data, digital tools (software), cloud technologies and compute infrastructure) with members of the existing EMBL-ABR International Scientific Advisory Group (ISAG). Bioplatforms Australia then provided funding to contract Rhys Francis (author, NCRIS eResearch investment/super science plans (2007-10) and the draft eResearch Framework (2013-15)) to work with our Director, Andrew Lonie, to establish a framework, a plan, a process. These ideas have since been ‘road tested’ at a large workshop with Queensland-based research leaders held in Brisbane in October 2017, and more workshops followed in other States. A National Reference Group of high profile domain-specific researchers has now formed to provide guidance and advocacy (refer Phase 2 Project Report for full list of members). This group met online in October in preparation for discussions with government in Canberra in late November 2017 and the EMBL-ABR ISAG expertise is also being called upon to inform and guide this process.

Earlier this year a very significant multi-year NCRIS investment in both Bioplatforms Australia (BPA) (~$110m over 5 years) and the Australian Research Data Commons (ARDC) (~$200m over 5 years) was announced. These investments are so significant that both bodies are now each undertaking strategic review processes, intended to drive multi-year infrastructure programs starting July 2019 in both cases.

As part of BPA’s strategic review, and funded and endorsed by BPA, this project will now build on the national consultation and planning work done to date (see Phase 3a Report below for latest update) to propose a detailed infrastructure and expertise investment strategy. It is expected that the proposal will be comprehensive and contain alternative models for how such infrastructure might be funded, delivered and managed. It will be very important that this project continues to consult closely with the ARDC during this planning period to make sure ambitions align.

In September 2018, project convenor and Director, Melbourne Bioinformatics and EMBL-ABR, Assoc Prof Andrew Lonie updated the EMBL-ABR International Scientific Advisory Group on progress to date. Bioinformatics services that would provide genuine value across the national researcher community and a national training program in concert with national infrastructure resources and closely aligned with international programs are clear priorities emerging from work to date. Each member of the national Reference Group will now be contacted once more, to help work towards the next phase of this activity, and to assemble some smaller community-aligned groups from the Reference Group to explore specific objectives and plans.

Key documents to date include:

Phase 1: ROADSHOW PRESENTATION

Phase 2: PROJECT REPORT

Phase 3a: MARCH 2018 UPDATE

Phase 3a: SEPTEMBER 2018 FULL REPORT

We want to keep everyone informed about this process – please sign up for EMBL-ABR news at www.embl-abr.org.au to get all updates.

If you wish to contribute to these discussions, or know how your institution or research is being represented in this process, please email Andrew Lonie: alonie@unimelb.edu.au.