The importance of biological data

ELIXIR superhighwayData is an essential commodity for biological research. Ten years ago, if a researcher needed to find a gene involved in a disease, he or she might have needed to invest three years of laboratory work. Today, thanks to genomic information stored in large public databases, the same task may take half an hour. Over a relatively short time, the result is a deluge of complex data that needs to be analysed.

Because of public data resources, researchers can now tackle society's serious challenges faster than ever.

  • Large-scale DNA sequencing projects produce robust datasets that can be used to associate minute differences with susceptibility to diseases.
  • By identifying patterns of genes that are active in different tumours, researchers can predict how aggressive the tumour is and decide which medicines to treat it with.
  • Linking catalogues that detail the millions of life forms that make up our environment enables applications ranging from the protection of endangered species and sustaining natural resources through control of agricultural pests.

The best insurance policy

Failure to build a realistic infrastructure for biological information will come at a cost hundreds of times higher than whatever ELIXIR may cost.If data disappear, experiments will have to be re-run. And if there is no place to centrally store the data, researchers will not be aware of it and may repeat experiments.

The cost of storing and managing experimental data represents a very small fraction of the overall cost of research. For example, running structural biology experiments costs around 800 million euros a year, but archiving, curating and managing the resulting data costs less than 8 million euros a year.

A sound biological data infrastructure is the best – and cheapest – insurance policy any government or agency can make to ensure it continues to benefit from its investments in research.