Core Facilities find a common voice

Core Facilities find a common voice

In July two members of the Babraham Bioinformatics group attended the first meeting of the UK Bioinformatics Core Facilities group in Newcastle. This was an event which brought together around 70 representatives from both academic and industrial bioinformatics facilities from all parts of the UK.  The idea for the two-day meeting was conceived by a small number of Facility Heads, we wanted to provide an opportunity for a wider group to discuss technological developments, organisation and funding challenges, and to help shape the future direction of bioinformatics services in the UK.

The meeting was divided into a number of sessions featuring both short talks and moderated discussions. The first day covered bioinformatics training and the different approaches which can be taken to make informatics analysis more accessible to all scientists. Many of the participants are actively involved in training and there was a lot of interest in hearing how other groups are managing the transition to a more training and enabling focussed role.  Babraham were able to highlight their experience in establishing their extensive bioinformatics training programme and show that their openly distributed course material has been taken up and presented by other groups.

We then moved to look at newer technical platforms. There were presentations on both the Pacific Biosciences and Oxford Nanopore sequencing systems.  These were followed by talks from users of high throughput CyTOF cytometry and Tandem Mass Tag proteomics systems.  These types of platform are likely to generate a significant amount of research data in the coming years so having a good idea of how to handle and analyse this data will be important for many core facilities.

The second day started with a technical discussion of the different approaches being taken to providing high throughput compute facilities to researchers.  Babraham presented their experiences of designing and running their compute cluster.  This was followed by presentations from two companies, Illumina and Alces Flight, who are promoting the use of cloud computing platforms for the processing of scientific data.  Many sites are actively investigating a transition to cloud computing and it was useful to have detailed discussions with groups with practical experience in making this change.
The meeting finished with presentations from funders, namely the MRC and BBSRC on the future funding of core facilities. In particular, it focussed on career paths for bioinformatics scientists and how the current academic structure does not make it easy for experience gained in a core facility to be recognised during formal evaluations.  It is also currently difficult for a researcher to smoothly move from a traditional academic career path to a core facility and back again. Both BBSRC and MRC are keen to address this issue and were very interested to hear the opinions of those already working in core facilities. There will be ongoing dialogue between the funders and the UK core facility group to try to develop suitable guidelines to make careers within a core facility more attractive and well supported in future.

The success of this initial meeting will hopefully mean that this will become a regular event. The continuing activities of the group should help promote interactions between core facilities, and provide a common voice to funding agencies.