National Bioinformatics Resource Center to support infectious disease research

07/12/04

Blacksburg, Va. – The Virginia Bioinformatics Institute (VBI) at Virginia Tech and its partners have been awarded a five-year, $10.3 million contract from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The purpose of this contract is to establish a national Bioinformatics Resource Center (BRC) that consists of a multi-organism relational database in support of infectious disease research, especially as it affects biodefense and emerging infectious diseases.

VBI's BRC will focus on Brucella (causes Brucellosis in cattle, pigs, and humans), Caliciviruses (causes many of the viral dysenteries on cruise ships), hepatitis A, Rabiesvirus, Coxiella burnetii/Rickettsias (which cause Q fever, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and typhus).

VBI is the lead research group with collaborators at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, Virginia Tech's Department of Computer Science, Loyola University Medical School, the University of Maryland, and Social and Scientific Systems Inc.

"The BRC will allow researchers throughout the world to access, analyze, and study molecular data for these infectious diseases as interoperable components to support biological synthesis," said VBI professor and Director Bruno Sobral. Currently, the U.S. Department of Defense-funded ToolBus/PathPort (Pathogen Portal) project at VBI directly addresses data and tool interoperation for infectious disease research communities and has already been leveraged on behalf of other contracts, such as the Middle Atlantic Regional Center of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases. It will now play a crucial enabling role in the BRC's mission.

VBI's BRC will contain high-quality curated data and relevant tools to enable and facilitate researchers' analytical and visualization needs. Researchers will be able to store, view, display, query, annotate, and analyze genomic and related data and bibliographic information.

"This NIH award highlights the importance of multiple-university collaborations in the rapidly developing fields of systems biology and bioinformatics," said Virginia Tech President Charles Steger. "The Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech has established itself as a leading center for advanced research."

Sobral will lead the project and VBI's Joao Setubal is co-principal investigator. Other Virginia Tech faculty members include Stephen Boyle from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine and Deborah Hix and Naren Ramakrishnan from the Department of Computer Science. Key scientists at other institutions are Susan Baker, a Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) expert from Loyola University; Abdu Azad, an expert in Rickettsias from the University of Maryland; and Ingrid Stahlman, a senior conference manager who will handle workshop and meeting logistics from Social and Scientific Systems Inc.

The BRC's VT partnerships provide a powerful scientific basis for moving ahead with cross-cutting collaborations. The bioinformatics and software development team at VBI (Sobral's Cyberinfrastructure Group) will provide software process and engineering management. Deborah Hix from the Systems Research Center at Virginia Tech will provide further strengths, applying usability engineering of software tools and systems built for the BRC.

Sobral's group will also draw heavily on VBI's Core Computational Facility (CCF) team of systems administrators, database administrators, and network analysts to ensure that data from the BRC are available to the community via two avenues: a browser-accessible system and an application-based system (ToolBus/PathPort). This interaction leverages VBI's existing partnerships with Sun Microsystems, IBM Corporation, and TimeLogic.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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