REHOVOT, Israel -- March 31, 1997-- Scientists throughout Asia and Eastern Europe will soon be able to plug into the vast molecular biology resources available on-line, thanks to an international UNESCO-sponsored computer network inaugurated today at the Weizmann Institute of Science.
The inauguration was attended by heads of delegations from China, India, Israel, Poland and Turkey, as well as by Prof. Adnan Badran, deputy director-general of UNESCO, and Prof. Paolo Zanella, director of the European Bioinformatics Institute.
Computerized resources in molecular biology, which include the rapidly accumulating data on genes and proteins, are now crucial for the progress of medicine, biotechnology, agriculture and other fields.However, while scientists in the United States, Western Europe and Japan are generally well equipped to make use of bioinformatics data banks containing this information, their colleagues in most other regions of the world lag far behind, lacking the equipment and training to exploit these vital new tools. The new International Bioinformatics Network, to be coordinated by the Weizmann Institute, is aimed at amending this situation for Asia and Eastern Europe and in the future for other regions, including Israel's neighboring countries.
The inauguration takes place within the framework of the first regional meeting of the International Center for Cooperation in Bioinformatics (ICCB) that is headquartered at the Weizmann Institute and coordinated by Prof. Marvin Edelman.The Center provides biotechnologically developing countries with scientific training and technical instruction in the use of international bioinformatics data banks and analysis of the data they provide.
A "Library of Congress" for Genes
Currently, there are three comprehensive international bioinformatics data banks -- the molecular biology equivalents of the Library of Congress -- at the European Bioinformatics Institute in the U.K., the National Center for Bioinformatics in the U.S. and the DNA Database of Japan. They contain information about the composition of genes (gene sequencing) and provide access to information about the location of genes on chromosomes (gene mapping) and three-dimensional structure of proteins.
Scientists in Western Europe and Israel are connected to the U.K. data bank through the European Molecular Biology Network, or EMBnet. Each Western European country has its own national EMBnet node, or mirror site -- a local electronic "copy" of the central U.K. data bank to which that country's scientists connect. Israel's national node, sponsored by the Ministry of Science, has its headquarters at the Weizmann Institute.
The newly inaugurated International Bioinformatics Network will be the equivalent of EMBnet for the developing world. ICCB will serve as the central node that will be linked to regional nodes -- currently located in China, India, Poland and Turkey -- which in turn will be linked to other countries in their region.
From Rehovot to Beijing
The Weizmann Institute's international activities in bioinformatics began in 1994, when Institute scientists Prof. Edelman and Leon Esterman established a UNESCO-sponsored cooperative program with Poland.Taking part in the program was the Polish Academy of Science's Institute for Biophysics and Biochemistry directed by Prof. Wlodzimierz Zagorski, who now plays a leading role in ICCB. Following the success of the Israeli-Polish undertaking, the Weizmann Institute initiated similar UNESCO-sponsored programs with Turkey in 1995 and with India in 1996. Most recently, a cooperative effort has been launched with China.
The purpose of ICCB's first meeting is to exchange views, initiate cooperation among regional nodes and develop long-term strategies and specific plans.Some of the participants are staying at the Weizmann Institute for a nine-day training course on how the Institute runs its national bioinformatics node and on ways of communicating with international data banks. In addition to UNESCO, funding for ICCB is provided by Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Cobiotech and the Weizmann Institute.
Prof. Edelman is a member of the Weizmann Institute's Plant Genetics Department and holds the Sir Siegmund Warburg Chair of Agricultural Molecular Biology. He is founder of the Israeli National Node of EMBnet and Chairman of the Advisory Committee of the European Bioinformatics Institute. Esterman is a senior staff scientist in the Institute's Biological Services.
The Weizmann Institute of Science is a major center of scientific research and graduate study located in Rehovot, Israel. Its 2,400 scientists, students and support staff are engaged in more than 850 research projects across the spectrum of contemporary science.