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Researchers Propose Using Bioinformatics, Open Data to Boost Basic Science Globally

A research team, including Ian Toma, MD, PhD, associate research professor of clinical research and leadership at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, has proposed a plan for the use of bioinformatics and open data to boost analytical capabilities in countries with limited resources. Their concept paper was published in Nature Biotechnology.

Scientists in regions classified by the World Bank as low income (LIC) and lower middle income countries (LMIC) have historically made fewer contributions to modern science, according to the team members. Aside from cultural and linguistic barriers preventing developing of publishable manuscripts, one of the significant challenges is the quality of research questions addressed by local researchers. The latter is due to the lack of infrastructure that would allow for the development and implementation of more advanced studies and generate scientifically important results.

The proposal to develop bioinformatics capabilities of researchers and scientists from these countries by providing adequate training and access to standard computing technology and cloud-based resources can enable scientists at institutions with limited resources to reanalyze data from public repositories and produce career-enhancing STEM research.

“The growing popularity of cloud computing and the availability of online training materials provide an opportunity for aspiring bioinformaticians in countries and institutions with limited resources,” said Toma. “In addition to an enhancement of the quality of their research projects, the cohorts of trained scientists from these countries could also help to analyze the huge amount of information in archived sequenced data and to speed up the progress of the biomedical sciences.”

In addition to publishing an educational resource guide on how to begin research in bioinformatics, the research team proposes a new model of education, training, and support to enable scientists in areas with limited resources. The proposed model recommends the use of high-speed internet and cloud resources typically available in the computer science departments of educational institutions in low resourced areas to allow scientists to analyze data from public repositories.

“Cloud-based resources can enable scientists in developing countries to train, research, and make scientific discoveries using publicly available data,” Toma said. “We believe that these resources, together with installed capacities and infrastructures already available in countries with limited resources, can support expansion of self-sustaining, cutting-edge STEM communities around the world.”

The team plans to develop a university-level program and a networking platform to connect bioinformatics scientists around the world. They believe establishing a global informatics training and support system will empower scientists in LICs and LMICs to participate in cutting-edge STEM research and also address the anticipated demand for analysis on bioinformatics data.

Toma co-authored the paper with colleagues from University of California, Los Angeles; Johns Hopkins University; Technological University of Panama; and University of California, San Diego. Serghei Mangul, PhD, a postdoctoral scholar in computer science at UCLA and Lana S. Martin, PhD, the program’s manager at the UCLA Institute for Quantitative and Computational Biosciences, are the first authors of the paper.

The paper, titled “How Bioinformatics and Open Data Can Boost Basic Science in Countries and Universities with Limited Resources,” is available at