Tuesday, November 24, 2015
Belgium is the latest country to join ELIXIR, following the signature of the ELIXIR Consortium Agreement by the Secretary of State for Science Policy, Elke Sleurs, and its approval by the ELIXIR Board.
Led by the Flemish Institute of Biotechnology (Vlaams Instituut voor Biotechnologie, VIB), the Belgian ELIXIR Node is composed of seven universities and five research centres: Universities of Ghent, Leuven, Antwerp, Hasselt, Liège, Brussels (VUB and ULB), VIB, IMEC, ExaScience Life Lab, GIGA, and the Cyclotron Research Centre.
The Belgian Node concentrates on sustainable agriculture and human health, and offers several databases, resources and bioinformatics infrastructures in the two domains, supported by expertise in biostatistics and machine learning.
Another focus area is high performance and big data computing, particularly computing resources for next generation sequencing data handling. To this end the node aims to leverage the computing resources available through the Flemish Supercomputer Centre and the Walloon Consortium of High-Performance Computing Centres.
François Guissart, Belgian delegate to the ELIXIR Board said: “Belgium has a significant number of R&D driven biotech companies that collaborate with academic institutes and research centres; together they have developed numerous important plant genomics resources, unique data mining and biostatistical tools, and databases for plant molecular biology. I am looking forward to integrating these services with the rest of Europe through ELIXIR."
Belgium becomes the 15th ELIXIR Member, following France and Spain that joined ELIXIR in October 2015.
The prospective ELIXIR Belgium Node is getting established and bioinformatics expertise and resources from all the partnering universities and institutes are currently brought together into a new entity. For many years, Belgium has been at the forefront of life sciences and biotech development, focusing on sustainable agriculture and human health, as both fields of research have been recognized as being of major importance for creating a sustainable world. Bioinformatics in Belgium is becoming increasingly established and as a result more and more initiatives to build infrastructure and stimulate collaboration are being initiated and will eventually be integrated to strengthen the Belgian ELIXIR Node. Research fields of particular interest to the Belgian ELIXIR Node are plant research and the biomedical sciences.
Regarding plant research and sustainable agriculture, Belgium has an impressive number of R&D driven biotech companies that collaborate with academic institutes and research centres. For instance, Flanders can boast the largest European R&D cluster in plant biotech with an outstanding level of cooperation between research institutions and multinationals. This excellence has led to numerous important plant genomics resources, unique data mining and biostatistical tools, and databases for plant molecular biology with applications in sustainable agriculture.
Regarding health, the clinical genomics community in Belgium has developed specific infrastructure to generate and handle next-generation sequencing data for diagnostic and research purposes. The ensuing databases of genomic sequence data and clinical diagnostic data are of great value for biomedical research.
Belgium also invested in high performance and big data computing and particularly computing resources for next generation sequence data handling. An example is the Flemish Supercomputer Centre (VSC), a shared resource available to all life science research that is upgrading its facilities to handle the combination of big data computing and high performance computing more efficiently.