The EMBRACE project is all about working together. The first decade ofthis millenium has seen the international 'omics' revolution in science. 'omics' is the buzzword that you tack on to the end of everything to obtain research funding; roughly it means "looking at the interaction between a lot of these", so people work on one gene call their work 'genetics', while others work on multiple genes and call it 'genomics.' After 'genomics' came 'transcriptomics' to study which genes are expressed in the cell, 'proteomics' to see which proteins are coded for by those genes, and most recently 'metabolomics' to see which metabolites are worked on by those proteins and how that influences our health.
Michael Schumacher is the big F1 hero for whom everybody waves their red flags. Of course, he couldn't do it without the boys who spend 7 seconds to change 4 tyres and pump 50 gallons of fuel. Fortunately, they also get their fair share of media attention.
However, the most important people in the Ferrari team are the engineers who work silently in the background, never seen by the big public or the media,but who are working day and night to make sure that the most important part of the team's infra-structure (the car), is optimally constructed and tuned.
One can compare EMBRACE with the engine technicians of F1 racing. Silently working in the background, EMBRACE makes sure that scientists in bioinformatics, medicine, molecular biology, virology, aids research, etc., can gain continual access to the rapidly growing databases. There is little glory in this 'behind the scene' work, but we believe that it is of crucial importance to the future of biomedical science in Europe.
A non-existent EMBRACE in the background means no flashy biomedical articles in the foreground. EMBRACE scientists work on a series of topics, all related to providing biomedical scientists access to biological data and to bioinformatics software. One nice aspect is the so-called Taverna software. This software helps bioinformaticians to write their own software more easily and more efficiently.
The nice thing about the taverna concept (above) is that the small spheres don't need to be software on your own computer, they can just as well be located on somebody else's computer. These remote software facilities that can be used by computer programs are called web-services, and they are the latest and newest development in the fight against the all the time more rapidly growing flows of biomedical data.
The EMBRACE Press Release
Hinxton, February 1, 2005 - The Commission of the European Union has awarded €8.3 million to a pan-European task force who will improve access to biological information for scientists throughout and beyond Europe. The EMBRACE Network of Excellence, which encompasses computational biologists from 17 institutes in 11 countries and is coordinated by the European Bioinformatics Institute's Associate Director Graham Cameron, will use these funds to simplify and standardize the way in which biological information is served to the researchers who use it.
Scientists now depend on databases to access the avalanche of information that they produce. For example, geneticists are trawling through the human genome for genes that are involved in diseases. Data providers put a huge amount of effort into providing data resources that are comprehensive, user-friendly and cross-linked to other databases; but different data providers use different methods. This means that a researcher might have to search ten or more different databases to find all the information pertaining to a particular set of candidate genes. If they're doing these kinds of searches on a regular basis, they'll want their own local copies of the databases. Maintaining up-to-date and fully functioning versions of all those databases and the tools to search them is a huge and complex task.
Vincent Breton (CNRS, Clermont-Ferrand, France), a member of EMBRACE's Executive Board, describes the problem as analogous to the use of electrical items before the electrical grid. "You didn't know whether your gadget's plug would fit the socket," he says.
EMBRACE will turn the relationship between user and provider on its head by enabling data providers to provide well-defined interfaces to their databases that will conform to the same standards, essentially creating a 'data grid' -the EMBRACEgrid - that will allow users to make the most of dispersed data resources.
To ensure that EMBRACE's efforts are immediately useful to biologists, Europe's most heavily used biomolecular databases and tools will be integrated into the EMBRACE grid. A 'technology watch' will ensure that the EMBRACE grid doesn't become locked into technology that is quickly superseded. The grid will also receive regular workouts using test problems, such as identifying candidate genes for a disease or linking viral mutations to their ability to cause disease. Disseminating information about the EMBRACE grid will be vital to ensure that scientists throughout Europe not only use the new technology, but also help to expand the capabilities of the EMBRACE grid by 'grid enabling' their own data resources.
"Many elegant and powerful computational biology tools are under-utilized," says EMBRACE Executive Boardmember Erik Bongcam-Rudloff (University of Uppsala,Sweden). "EMBRACE will allow us to unlock their potential by standardizing access to them."
End of press release
How to obtain further information
The contact page of the EMBRACE website lists the names of the people whom you can contact for all kinds of information about EMBRACE. You can of course also contact the EMBRACE partner living nearest to you. If you are more interested in bioinformatics itself than in the technology that enables bioinformatics, you might also want to look at the BioSapiens WWW pages.
© Gert Vriend, 2005