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Five Member States give safeguarding biological information the green light

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An EU-funded pan-European initiative to operate a sustainable infrastructure for managing and safeguarding biological information in Europe has been given the go-ahead by five European countries as well as the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI), part of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in the United Kingdom, the project's coordinating institution. Denmark, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden and the United Kingdom have all signed a Memorandum of Understanding that acts as their seal of approval for the implementation of ELIXIR (European life-science infrastructure for biological information), Europe's emerging research infrastructure for life-science information.

The aim of ELIXIR is to ensure that there is open access to information about the building blocks of life such as genes, proteins and complex networks. ELIXIR's architects hope it will support life science research and its translation to related fields in medicine, the environment and bio-industries. In keeping with the European Commission's Digital Agenda strategy, one of the Europe 2020 flagship policies, ELIXIR hopes to promote open access as a founding principle, based on the belief that the more information is open to researchers across academia and industry, the more it can contribute to economic growth and benefit society as a whole.

The ELIXIR project was given a boost of EUR 4,500,000 funding as part of the 'Research infrastructures' Theme of the EU's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7).

'We are very excited that five countries have signed ELIXIR's Memorandum of Understanding so quickly, and that several others are already going through the process. This underlines the broad consensus on the need to establish a sustainable infrastructure for managing the data underlying life science research in Europe,' said ELIXIR coordinator and EMBL-EBI Director, Professor Janet Thornton. 'ELIXIR has the potential to make a real and lasting difference to Europe's citizens - access to data is central to answering the pressing problems of our time, including food security and the health and well-being of an ageing population.'

Although the memorandum is only a first formal agreement and is not yet legally binding, it represents a first step towards the implementation and construction of ELIXIR. Countries signing the Memorandum will be represented on the Interim Board, the main body for negotiating ELIXIR's final legal and governance structure. The current signatories hope that eventually all European countries will get on board and endorse the Memorandum too.

'The successful collaboration between just two of Europe's major life science data providers - the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics (SIB) and EMBL-EBI - shows what can be achieved when experts pool their knowledge and vision,' said Professor Ron Appel, executive director of SIB and member of ELIXIR's steering committee. 'But we need to take this further. ELIXIR, with the support of European and national funding agencies, will allow for collaboration on an unprecedented scale, and open the door to the science of the future.'

The aim of the ELIXIR project's preparatory phase was to produce a memorandum or memoranda of understanding between European organisations such as government agencies, research councils, funding bodies and scientific organisations, to construct a world-class and globally positioned European infrastructure for the management and integration of information in the life sciences.

The researchers involved with the project explored integration and interoperability between core and specialised data resources and the development of standards in newly emerging fields. They defined the critical interdisciplinary links that need to be forged between the biological and related scientific disciplines, including medicine, agriculture and the environment. They also looked at the needs of related European industries