The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has appointed the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics (SIB) as its reference centre for bioinformatics. SIB has been working closely with FAO on the screening, monitoring, and follow-up of zoonotic diseases (or zoonoses) -- diseases of animals that can infect humans, such as avian influenza – as well as on diseases that affect only non-human animals, such as foot-and-mouth disease.
Over the years, the FAO has built up a network of centres of excellence with universities, research institutes, and scientific organisations that are designated as ‘FAO Reference Centres’ and which provide the FAO with independent technical and scientific advice. The bioinformatics tools developed at SIB in partnership with FAO have improved the early detection and fast alert system, by combining epidemiological and genetic information related to zoonoses, as well as analyses and modelling of the risks of pathogen emergence and spread.
The FAO wishes to extend the use of open-access databases more generally, and SIB provides several, such as Viralzone, which is a data-base about viruses maintained by the SIB Swiss-Prot group. It also offers OpenFlu and OpenFMD, which are maintained by the SIB Vital-IT group and which form resources on influenza and foot-and-mouth disease, respectively. The databases provide information on the pathogens’ genome, their epidemiology, evolution, and parenthood.
The SIB has also developed e-learning modules on bioinformatics in animal viral pathogens that are publicly accessible. It also operates a unique institutional network, which federates 56 bioinformatics service and research groups, allowing the FAO to get access to diverse expert skills in the domain.
Johann Schneider-Ammann, the Swiss Federal Councillor in charge of the Department of Economic Affairs, Education, and Research, said: ‘SIB has been chosen for its high-level scientific expertise; its commitment to strengthening its capacities; as well as for the services it offers.’
SIB is an academic non-profit foundation that federates bioinformatics activities throughout Switzerland. It has a long-standing tradition of producing software for the life science research community, as well as carefully annotated databases, such as UniProtKB/Swiss-Prot, the world’s most widely used source of information on proteins. The maintenance of UniProtKB/Swiss-Prot is carried out in collaboration with the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) in Hinxton (UK) and the Protein Information Resource (PIR) in Georgetown (USA). These three groups form the Universal Protein Resource (UniProt) consortium whose mission is to provide the scientific community with a comprehensive, high-quality and freely accessible resource for protein sequences and functional information.
SIB includes 56 world-class research and service groups, which bring together more than 650 scientists in the fields of proteomics, transcriptomics, genomics, systems biology, structural bioinformatics, evolutionary bioinformatics, biophysics and population genetics, located in the Swiss cantons of Basel, Bern, Fribourg, Geneva, Ticino, Vaud and Zurich.