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Benjamin Franklin Award Winner Announced At #BioIT19


By Benjamin Ross

April 26, 2019 | Eugene Koonin, senior investigator at the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), was honored as the recipient of the 2019 Benjamin Franklin Award for Open Access in the Life Sciences during the Bio-IT World Conference & Expo in Boston. The award, presented annually by Bioinformatics.org, is a humanitarian/bioethics award given to an individual who has, in his or her practice, promoted free and open access to the materials and methods used in the life sciences.

"I am certainly delighted to receive this award, for at least two reasons," Koonin told Bio-IT World in an email. "First, the award focuses on open access to software, data and publications, and I have been a proponent of open access since its infancy. So it is good to see our efforts recognized. Second, a quick perusal of the list of the previous winner shows that this is a veritable Hall of Fame of Bioinformatics. Definitely, an honor to join these ranks."

For over three decades, Koonin has contributed to both open access in bioinformatics and computational biology. His efforts in PSI-BLAST and COGs (Clusters of Orthologous Groups), including his organization of the COG project, opened up the field of comparative genomics, allowing many computational and experimental biologists a new avenue of access to enormous repositories of sequence data, as well as allowing investigators to make sense of their research areas in the light of evolution.

Koonin is also a co-founder of the journal Biology Direct, a pioneer open access and open peer-review journal (all reviews are published together with the final article). The idea behind the journal, says Koonin, was to implement an alternative approach to peer review.

"[M]aking [peer review] fully open, with the reviews and author rebuttals becoming an integral part of the final publication," Koonin said. "There was also a more radical aspect to this approach, namely, allowing publication even with negative reviews provided the reviewers acknowledged the work as legitimate science.

"Back then, in 2005-2006, these were innovative approaches. By now, I believe the community is moving in these directions, although publication in spite of criticisms (as long as these are published as well) remains controversial."

Koonin and his colleagues at the NCBI are currently attempting to combine comparative genomics study of the coevolution of selfish genetic elements and host defense systems with general theory of complexity evolution. The two directions are more tightly linked than one would suspect at first glance, Koonin says.

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