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Ewan Birney Wins 2005 Benjamin Franklin Award

(01/27/05)—Ewan Birney, a prominent scientist in the Human Genome Project from the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) in Cambridge, England, 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.

The Ensembl project provides a comprehensive source of annotation data on 16 vertebrate and other large genome sequences, including chimpanzee, dog, cow, chicken, frog, and honeybee. Ensembl features comparative analysis functionality, including direct comparison of different annotated genomes. As Birney and colleagues wrote in a review of the portal published earlier this month, "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 several valuable programs, including GeneWise and GenomeWise, important components of Ensembl. GeneWise predicts gene structure using protein sequences, while GenomeWise provides gene structures from cDNA and EST data.

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 has played a key role in the assembly of the draft sequences of the rat and chicken. Other current interests include the Reactome database, a knowledgebase 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 European-wide network for genome annotation.

This year's Benjamin Franklin Award will be presented at the annual meeting of Bioinformatics.Org, which, for the second consecutive year, will be held in conjunction with the Bio-IT World Conference + Expo. Birney will deliver an address following the presentation of the award at 9:45 AM on May 19, 2005, at the Hynes Convention Center.

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). More information on the Award can be found here.

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