INFORMATICS LEADER · Ensembl project leader to be honored at Bio·IT World Conference + Expo in May
By Kevin Davies
March 8, 2005 | Ewan Birney, a prominent scientist in the Human Genome Project from the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI), has won the 2005 Benjamin Franklin Award from Bioinformatics.Org. The young British bioinformatician will be presented with the award at this year's Bio·IT World Conference + Expo, on May 19, in Boston.
The Benjamin Franklin Award in Bioinformatics is a humanitarian award that recognizes scientists who advocate open access to programs and other materials in the bioinformatics arena. Birney was lauded by his peers for his vigorous defense of open access to the human genome sequence data.
As co-leader of the EBI's open-source Ensembl project, Birney has done more than most to ensure free access to premium-quality genome annotation data via the Web.
OPEN ACCESS: Ewan Birney is lauded for his efforts to ensure wide access to premium genome annotation data.
Ensembl provides comprehensive annotation data on 16 vertebrate and other large genome sequences, including chimpanzee and dog. As Birney and colleagues wrote in a recent review of the portal, "The Ensembl software system is being increasingly widely reused in different projects, showing the benefits of a completely open approach to software development and distribution."
Birney trained as a biochemist at Oxford University, and did his Ph.D. with Richard Durbin at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. He is the author of valuable programs, including Ensembl components GeneWise and GenomeWise. GeneWise predicts gene structure using protein sequences, while GenomeWise provides gene structures from cDNA and EST data. In addition, Birney serves as co-leader of the open-source bioinformatics toolkit Bioperl, and is president of the Open Bioinformatics Foundation, an organization that supports the development of several bioinformatics toolkits.
Most recently, Birney played a key role in the assembly of the draft sequences of the rat and chicken. Other current interests include the Reactome database — a knowledge base of human biological pathways; the Encode project — detailed gene anatomy of a specified region of the human genome; and the Biosapiens Network of Excellence — a Europe-wide network for genome annotation.
Bioinformatics.Org solicited nominations for the 2005 award from its more than 12,000 members. The previous winners were Lincoln Stein (2004), James Kent (2003), and Michael Eisen (2002).