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Making Connections in 2014

This is the second year of the ABN Connection Grants Scheme, and we’ve been able to award funding to four proposals out of an excellent field of fourteen submissions from ABN members.

The idea of the Connection Grants Scheme is to catalyse new and productive connections for Australian bioinformatics in ways that complement what we can achieve through alone. With that in mind, reviewers Nathan Watson-Haigh, Ute Baumann (both past Connection Grant recipients) and Benita Vincent put these four proposals at the top of their lists:

  • UCSC Genome Browser Roadshow ($6k)

  • Australian Bioinformatics Conference ($7k)

  • Fungal bioinformatics satellite meeting  ($8.9k)

  • Education session at InCoB 2014: Bringing expertise from GOBLET ($3.6k)

You can read the actual proposals here, but we thought we should ask the proponents to describe, in their own words, the ideas that are now in train, and how they are going to strengthen the Australian bioinformatics community.

Bob Kuhn... hands blurred after a vigorous UCSC browsing session.Mark Crowe: let’s get this show on the road

“The UCSC Genome Browser is one of the most popular and widely used genomics tools—a very “biologist friendly” way of explaining genomes,” says Dr Mark Crowe, Training and Outreach Manager at QFAB.

“It’s like so many other computer or bioinformatics tools though: it can do a huge amount, but most of us only use it for simple functions,” says Mark.

And the path to enlightenment?

“There’s nothing like seeing an expert user in action. Bob Kuhn’s visit last year was really well received, with even experienced users saying ‘I learned so much’, ‘I didn’t know you could do this, or that with the browser’.”

It was this kind of feedback that encouraged Mark to apply for a Connection Grant so that those who missed out in 2013 could get to experience “the power of Bob”.

“Last year’s training sessions were oversubscribed and we could only cover the eastern seaboard,” says Mark. “With this grant, we’ll be able to reach Perth and Adelaide and help boost bioinformatics skills nationwide.”

(...and if you think you know what UCSC is capable of, check this out)

David Goode: come together, right now

“The way I see it,” says Dr David Goode Postdoctoral Fellow in Bioinformatics in the Thomas Lab at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, “is that while there are a lot of great local bioinformatics meetings, there is currently no national forum for researchers to meet and ‘talk bioinformatics’.”

“We wanted to provide a forum that would work well for researchers working in different areas—industry, academia, agriculture, biomedicine—to help build connections.”

David, along with Dr. Jovana Maksimovic, Dr. Katrina Bell, Dr. Dieter Bulach, Dr. David Goode, Dr. Alicia Oshlack, Dr. Torsten Seemann pitched this desire in a well-received Connection Grant proposal. But do we need this kind of meeting in a world more digitally connected than ever?

“I can tell you that, just here in Melbourne, there are people working on similar topics who are not yet aware of each other’s work,” says David.

So how does this conference sit within Australia meeting landscape?

“There are some great meetings like Lorne or AGTA but these aren’t primarily focused on algorithms and analysis methods. Our aim is not to replace or compete with any existing events but to complement them and, in doing so, strengthen Australian bioscience and the bioinformatics community in particular.”

The 2014 Australian Bioinformatics Conference will be held from Sat 11 Oct - Sun 12 Oct, 2014 (followed immediately by AGTA 2014). Featuring keynotes from

...that’s a powerful weekend! Register now!

James Hane: fungal bioinformatics needs light

Fungi have been getting plenty of attention here in sunny Canberra, but we asked Dr James Hane, Senior Research Fellow at Curtin University’s Center for Crop and Disease Management, why fungi and fungal bioinformatics matter.

“Fungal diseases are a major cause of quality and yield losses in Australian crops,” says James. “Fungal bioinformatics provides a foundation for the molecular research needed to tackle those losses.”

James, Angela Williams, Adam Taranto and Associate Professor Peter Solomon are organising a one day meeting focussing on microbial pathogen bioinformatics to coincide with an annual meeting on fungal plant pathogens in Canberra in early December this year. “The aim of this satellite to an Australian Fungal Biology meeting is to bring together all the students, early-career and other researchers who actually do the bioinformatics, and have a day focused on their work and their issues in analysing biomolecular data on these pathogens.”

“We’re in the early stages of planning,” says James, “ and we’ve already seen enthusiasm for expanding the scope of the meeting to ‘pathogen bioinformatics’ in general.”

James’ Connection Grant includes a component of student funding in the form of travel stipends and student prizes. “We’re keen to encourage participation in this meeting—it’s a unique opportunity to connect to researchers nationwide.”

Bruno Gaëta: bioinformatics education is a global challenge

Dr Bruno Gaeta, Director of UNSW’s Bioinformatics Program, has been involved with bioinformatics learning, education and training since the early 1990s and sees two facets to the current needs for training.

“On one hand, there is the need to form bioinformatics professionals ‘from the ground up’, people who understand both biology and the computing-maths-stats, people who can bring together abstract bioinformatics thinking to concrete bioscience problems,” says Bruno. “On the other hand, there are the needs of bioinformatics users who want to to know what best to do in the face of immediate bioscience questions.”

Bruno saw the chance to improve the quality of bioinformatics education and training in Australia and provide a forum for Australian bioinformatics educators to meet and network.

“With InCoB happening in a Sydney this year, its a great opportunity to bring educators together from all over the Asia Pacific,” says Bruno. “And to headline the session, we want to bring a speaker from GOBLET so as to provide an international  dimension to this forum for educators to exchange ideas, best practice and materials.”

(InCoB is the flagship conference of the Asia-Pacific Bioinformatics Network (APBioNet) who, like the Australian Bioinformatics Network, are GOBLET affiliates.)

As well as the benefits delivered from learning and development, Bruno is mindful of the need to support those who do the teaching: “Often educators and trainers are not recognised, part of this session and the mission of GOBLET is to find ways in which good education and training can be recognised and rewarded.”

The 13th International Conference on Bioinformatics (InCoB2014) will be held in Novotel Sydney Brighton Beach, Sydney from 31st July to 2nd August 2014. There is a great line up of speakers and registrations are open.

In closing

The ABN greatly appreciates the initiative and creative efforts of all 2014 Connection Grant applicants—as in 2013, the final selection reflects the available funding rather than any shortage of worthy ideas.

We look forward to seeing the four Grants made in 2014 help strengthen connections in Australian bioinformatics and wish all concerned every success in their efforts.