International infrastructure services for molecular biology and bioinformatics support coronavirus research

22 Jun 2020

Scientists and researchers are hard at work on solutions to overcome the COVID-19 disease and to manage the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. This requires ready access to good research infrastructures: tools and equipment, data networks and databases, and open access research materials and services that facilitate research and promote research collaboration.

The coronavirus pandemic has shown that even in exceptional circumstances, it is possible to mount an effective response – provided that competent staff and the necessary international and national preparedness are in place. The foundation for this lies in the long-term development of research infrastructures. Indeed, research infrastructures funded by the Academy of Finland are crucial to the science community ’s efforts to understand the characteristics of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the effects of the epidemic.

How have these research infrastructures been used during the corona pandemic, and how will they be used in different fields of science and research as we move forward? We are publishing a series of short pieces to shed light on these questions.

International infrastructure services for molecular biology and bioinformatics support coronavirus research

The European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) is an international research organisation founded in 1974. It engages in basic biological research from molecular to organism level and contributes to developing new research methods and instruments in its field. The laboratory promotes European research cooperation in disciplines that use molecular biology methods and supports the joint development of research infrastructures and postgraduate training.

EMBL is currently administered and funded by 27 member states. Its main laboratory is located in Heidelberg, Germany. Finland has been an EMBL member since 1984. EMBL is one of the international research infrastructures funded by the Academy of Finland.

EMBL research infrastructures have played a pivotal role in research related to the coronavirus pandemic. The laboratory has been actively involved in building the COVID-19 data portal that was opened in April. The portal is designed to facilitate the sharing of national data and findings and to coordinate virus genome sequence data not only across Europe, but around the world.

Working under the umbrella of the EMBL organisation, the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) provides bioinformatics resources and conducts basic research in bioinformatics. One recent focus for EBI has been to develop software for assessing the risks of COVID-19-associated diseases. The software uses all nationally available health data and should be scalable to up to 100 million people.

EMBL also offers access to several research platforms in different laboratories to allow for rapid testing in connection with coronavirus research. Furthermore, EMBL can provide access to cutting-edge analyses of epidemiological contagion, which can be complemented by national and regional data.

The Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM) has worked closely with EBI in the field of coronavirus research. FIMM is part of the Nordic EMBL Partnership for Molecular Medicine.

FIMM is involved in the international COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative, which was launched to collect genetic information about people infected by the coronavirus around the world. The purpose of the project is to provide infrastructure support and resources for research aimed at learning the genetic determinants of COVID-19 susceptibility and severity. In addition, the project has created a forum for sharing research and data in the scientific community. FIMM has contributed to these efforts by elaborating phenotype standards together with the European Genome-phenome Archive (EGA).

“Pan-European cooperation has greatly accelerated the availability of COVID-19 research data both for the purposes of our own research projects and for the scientific community more widely,” says FIMM Director, Professor Mark Daly.

Read more: High-level research infrastructures support COVID-19 research:

More information

In addition to the research infrastructures introduced here, there are a number of other national and international research infrastructures that provide services for COVID-19 research. One useful source of further information is the ESFRI website.

The Academy of Finland provides funding for the acquisition and establishment of nationally and internationally significant research infrastructures that promote high-quality scientific research and for strengthening and expanding existing services.

  • Merja Särkioja, Senior Science Adviser, firstname.lastname(at), tel. + 358 295 335 111

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