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Alex Bateman Wins 2010 Benjamin Franklin Award

By Kevin Davies

April 1, 2010 | The Bioinformatics Organization has named Alex Bateman, a senior investigator at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge, UK, as the winner of the 2010 Benjamin Franklin Award.

Bateman told Bio-IT World he was delighted to win the award. “I strongly believe that open biologically databases are essential to the development of science and technology. This award is only possible due to the tireless work of our biocurators who make the mass of sequence data understandable. Biocurators really are the unsung heroes of molecular biology.”

Bateman was selected from a strong group of finalists that included Don Gilbert (Indiana University), David Lipman (NCBI), John Quackenbush (Harvard School of Public Health), and G.P.S. Raghava (Institute of Microbial Technology). Bateman is the third scientist from the twin campuses of the Sanger Institute and European Bioinformatics Institute to win the award, following in the footsteps of Ewan Birney and Michael Ashburner. He will receive his award from president Jeff Bizzaro and give a free lecture on April 21 at the Bio-IT World Conference & Expo in Boston.

Since arriving at the Sanger in 1997, Bateman has established the freely available Pfam, Rfam and MEROPS databases, which aid in the classification of protein and RNA sequences to better understand their function and evolution. His work has incorporated Wikipedia annotation into Rfam, drawing on the support of the diverse Wikipedia community, which Bateman said has made “an enormous and lasting contribution to open knowledge.”

The Pfam database contains more than 12,000 entries and played a valuable role in the annotation of the human genome. In 2003 he founded the Rfam database of non-coding RNAs that provides annotation and models for hundreds of RNA families. Bateman has also served as executive editor for the open-access database issue of the journal Nucleic Acids Research, and helped initiate the RNA Families track at the journal RNA Biology, which requires a Wikipedia article for each published RNA family. He has been the executive editor for Bioinformatics since 2004, and since 2007, Bateman has been in charge of the PhD program at the Sanger Institute.

Bateman gave special credit to Sam Griffiths-Jones, Jen Daub and Paul Gardner for the
 Rfam@WikiPedia project and Rob Finn, Penny Coggill, Jaina Mistry, John Tate and Prasad Gunasekaran in the Pfam group.

Bateman also acknowledged the previous winners of the Benjamin Franklin Award, whom he called “a big influence during my scientific career and taught me the value of free software and free data.” Bateman has collaborated with a past Franklin Award winner, HHMI investigator Sean Eddy, using the HMMER software to identify novel protein domains.

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