In life science research, large amounts of data are generated experimentally, which only provide valuable conclusions after bioinformatics analysis. This is particularly the case in the investigation of cell components, i.e. by genome, transcriptome, proteome or metabolome analyses. An essential point in molecular biological research is therefore the existence and the meaningful application of bioinformatic analysis programs. For this reason, molecular biologists should have detailed knowledge in the field of bioinformatics and computational biology. However, today's university training for molecular biologists very rarely includes bioinformatics aspects. Therefore, there is a great need to train biologists in computational methods. For this purpose, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) funded the de.NBI - the German Network for Bioinformatics Infrastructure.
The de.NBI network brings together a total of 40 academic bioinformatics groups that provide expert assistance in the analysis of life science data. The coordination of the de.NBI network was put in my hands and a well-equipped administration office was available to carry out organizational work. Central areas in the de.NBI network are Service, Training and Cloud Computing. In the Service area, more than 150 bioinformatics programs (Fig. 1) are available that can be used for the analysis of life science data. The groups responsible for developing the programs and providing expert assistance in using these programs are also mentioned there. In the Training section, courses designed to teach how to use the bioinformatics programs offered, are provided for interested young as well as experienced researchers. More than 9,000 participants have already been counted in the training courses held so far. These training courses have proven to be extremely useful, as they enable an intensive exchange between software engineers and software users.
After the portfolio of bioinformatics programs had been established in the service area and the handling of these programs had been organized in the training area, the question of a suitable computing structure still remained. An innovative approach was taken in this regard and a cloud infrastructure was envisaged. The de.NBI project's reviewers and the BMBF welcomed this plan and supported its implementation. To date, a total of almost 50 million euros has been invested in setting up the de.NBI Cloud. It should be emphasized that this de.NBI Cloud has been extremely well received from the very beginning. This was mainly due to the simple access conditions. All researchers from the life sciences can use the de.NBI cloud free of charge for the analysis of large data sets. In the meantime, more than 700 projects have been calculated using the de.NBI Cloud. The procedure for requesting access to the de.NBI Cloud is described here.
Besides the described areas, the de.NBI network was also able to develop the important areas of international cooperation and industrial connection.
Since the establishment of the de.NBI network as a BMBF-funded project was considered a success story, the BMBF granted a two-year prolongation in order to stabilize and find a way to sustain the developed bioinformatics infrastructure. This task proved to be extremely difficult, but could be solved in the end. Since the beginning of 2021, the de.NBI network has been in a process of being integrated into the Helmholtz Association at Forschungszentrum Jülich. All work areas of the de.NBI network were taken over and have since been continued in the usual manner. The de.NBI network therefore offers – as before – expert assistance in the analysis of life science data.