Winners of the DFG Bioinformatics Initiative

September 04, 2000

The Central Committee of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) has selected the winners of the Bioinformatics Initiative today. A total of 31 concepts were handed in for assessment. The DFG is to support the development of bioinformatics at the locations of Bielefield, Munich, Leipzig, Saarbrucken and Tubingen for an initial two years.

In June 1999, the DFG invited Germany's universities to work out concepts for the development of a research and teaching profile in bioinformatics together with extra-university institutes in their region. In bioinformatics, an interdisciplinary science that is still in its infancy, insights and methods in biology, chemistry, pharmaceutics and computer science are combined to order the huge amounts of information coming from attempts world-wide to decode the hereditary factors of micro-organisms, plants, animals and even human beings (human genome projects), to relate them to each other and to make them available to applications, for example in medicine. This means that the establishment of bioinformatics capacities is essential at all locations at which modern bio-science is being carried out. Already, there are bioinformatics programmes in France, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The DFG's Committee and Senate wanted the competition to give an impulse to the universities and research institutions to enhance existing potentials in order to boost their attractiveness by offering forward-looking courses, to provide qualified training for urgently required new blood for academic research and industry and, in doing so, to improve Germany as a science location. On the basis of recommendations drawn up by an international team of experts, and in the framework of the Bioinformatics Initiative, the Central Committee has selected five locations that have submitted particularly innovative concepts.

In Bielefeld, DFG funds are being used to set up two institutes at the Biotechnology Centre, an institute for genome research and an institute for bioinformatics, which are to accommodate a total of ten research teams. Here, the DFG is supporting long-standing collaboration between informatics and biology that already led to the introduction of a bioinformatics course years ago. A graduate college at Bielefeld University has been receiving support as well.

In Munich, Ludwig Maximilian University as well as the Technical University, the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry and the GSF Research Centre for the Environment and Health are to establish a network of bioinformatics in teaching and research. The network will be based on a wide range of different genome research and information technology research areas the Munich scientists can already boast expertise in. They now intend to pool their resources to focus on a joint study course as well as a joint research priority area of the various bioinformatics institutions.

The Leipzig scientists want to concentrate on two clearly circumscribed, highly topical research areas: "Genetic Evolution" and "Cellular Signal Translation and Self-Organisation of Tissue. An Interdisciplinary Centre for Bioinformatics (IZBI) is to be established as a central institution of Leipzig University in which the existing research activities will be bundled. Co-operation between the University and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology forms an important element of the concept.

The Saarbrucken scientists, most of whom come from the informatics subject, have set their sights on constructing a virtual bio-laboratory, with which the number of laboratory experiments could be reduced to a minimum. The funds awarded by the DFG are to be used to set up a competency centre at which expertise from the life sciences and informatics is to be concentrated. The Max Planck Institute for Informatics is going to make a crucial contribution to this scheme. Interest focuses on the components of a virtual laboratory, which will be playing an important role in the development of new medicaments.

The Tubingen initiative can already boast a well-established study course in bioinformatics, too. Bioinformatics was chosen as a priority area by the Tubingen scientists themselves. Now it is to be extended with the support of DFG funds, which are going to be used to set up a Tubingen Centre for Bioinformatics (ZBIT) in a recently acquired building. Existing expertise, which is based on extensive research activities in a wide range of biomedicine and informatics topics, is to be concentrated and supplemented by new departments yet to be set up. The university is co-operating closely with the Max Planck Society's local institutes.

In promoting the five above-mentioned locations, the DFG is making an important contribution to the enhancement of Germany's bioinformatics teaching and research capacity.

Having compared all applications and talks with the initiators of the nine applications that made it to the final round, the international team of experts stated that the competition had resulted in a pioneering atmosphere that was perceived way beyond the circle of successful initiatives. They maintained that, over the next few years, this mood would enable bioinformatics to gain ground in international competition, helping to secure Germany's competitiveness in large areas of the life sciences.
For further details, contact Dr. Ingrid Ehses, Department Biology 4, Tel: 49- 228-885-2258, Email:, and Dr. Andreas Engelke, Engineering Sciences Department 6, Tel: 49-228-885-2523, Email:

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft

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