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OpenBEL Joins Linux Foundation As Collaborative Project


By Allison Proffitt 
 
August 26, 2013 | OpenBEL—the open source version of the Biological Expression Language released last June by Selventa (see, “Ring My BEL”)—announced today that it is now an open source collaborative project of The Linux Foundation. 
 
 “As a little company trying to make this set of standards and software available to the community at large so everyone can benefit, we needed to have some experience in this [open source] space,” explained Ted Slater, project lead for OpenBEL. As the people who manage the largest collaborative software project in the whole world, which is Linux, we thought that the Linux Foundation would be a fantastic partner in this space.”
 
“Through its Collaborative Projects services, The Linux Foundation provides the essential collaborative and organizational framework so projects can focus on innovation and results,” said a Linux Foundation statement. “OpenBEL will tap into more than a decade of expertise that The Linux Foundation has in forming and shepherding successful open source projects, including Linux, in hopes that it can parlay that knowledge into a thriving open source project and community that will lead to medical and scientific breakthroughs.”
 
OpenBEL will be the Linux Foundation’s first foray into open source life sciences. “We expect more projects to surface in life sciences and other industries as the benefits of open source and collaborative development become more and more evident,” said a Linux Foundation spokesperson. “We're already seeing it expand to networking, financial services and more. In the enterprise IT and mobile industries, it is widely understood that open source software and collaboration accelerate innovation… These same kinds of benefits can be applied in a variety of areas, including life sciences. OpenBEL just happens to be the first one we're hosting.”
 
BEL was developed more than ten years ago by Selventa—then Genstruct—to use in its own research. Selventa used BEL to better understand drug efficacy and toxicity, identify mechanisms for drug sensitivity and resistance, and provide deeper insight into disease networks using multiple types of Big Data. 
 
It’s been in continuous development since then, Slater said, and, “It’s turned into quite a powerful language for describing what we know in a qualitative way about the causal relationships between entities in biology.”
 
With the open source release last year, OpenBEL has developed a community of dedicated users. 
 
“We released the language specifications for BEL and the software tools associated with it to the biological community,” Slater said. We wanted to build an organization around BEL, a community, to help the language thrive, to help it get better at what it does, and to better meet the needs of the members of the community.” 
 
BEL is being used by various groups worldwide, Slater said, and listed Selventa, Pfizer, The Fraunhofer Institute in Germany, Harvard Medical School, Novartis, Pfizer, and University of California at San Diego, among others. 
 
As a Linux Foundation collaborative project, OpenBel will be continue to be an open source software project that anyone can use or contribute to. However, like all Linux Foundation projects, users can become members of the project. The OpenBEL project carries an annual membership fee of $100,000 which will fund hosting, administrative expenses, event support, and PR services. Membership fees can also help fund further development if the community needs outside expertise to advance the tool. 
 
The OpenBEL project includes the BEL language, the open source code and builds of the BEL Framework and associated technologies, tools, and content. The technical steering committee chair is currently Prof. Dr. Martin Hofmann-Apitius, head of the Department of Bioinformatics at the Fraunhofer Institute for Algorithms and Scientific Computing (SCAI) in Sankt Augustin (Germany), a governmental non-profit research institute.
 
For more information about the OpenBEL project and to get involved, visit: www.openbel.org
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