response to Mike Cherry's inquiry

Robert Robbins rrobbins at WELCHGATE.WELCH.JHU.EDU
Mon Jan 4 14:14:30 EST 1993


Yes, GDB is big-ticket funding ($5 million/year, including indirects), but
many other projects are also getting significant support.  GenBank was on
the order of $5 million/year before it was taken over by NCBI.  PIR is in
the $1 million range and I think that PDB is in the $2 million area.  The
Long-Term Ecological Research program funded by NSF in the range of $10
million/year has an avowed commitment of at least 20% of budget to major
data-management activities for long-term storage, management, and
retrieval.  The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) of
the National Library of Medicine is about a $10 million/year organization. 

The US Human Genome Project overall (NIH and DOE) spends another several
million each year on databasing and informatics other than GDB or GenBank.
NIH has recently funded FlyBASE -- a Drosophila system -- and GBASE -- the
mouse database -- has been supported at Jackson Lab for some time now by
varying sponsors.  The new brain-map, or human brain project, that is
getting up to speed will also have a major database component.  When I was
at NSF, the new DataBase Activities program funded several projects,
including Carl Woese's RNA sequence and alignment database at Urbana. 

As for federal support for data deposition, for a couple of years, PDB has
been suffering from information overload, because they have been receiving
data faster than they can be processed and entered into the database.  In
part, this has been due to pressure from funding-agencies on grantees,
"ecouraging" them to get their data submitted to PDB before their renewal
requests are acted upon. 

Although I cannot claim any detailed knowledge of European plans, I do
know that the number of distributed nodes of GDB is constantly growing,
with active sites in Britain, Germany, Australia, and more coming on-line
in Japan, Sweden, and the Netherlands.  It is my impression that the EC
would like to see a major European center for biological information
management develop and that this may well occur at the German Cancer
Research Center (DKFZ) in Heidelberg.  Last summer the EC sponsored a
large, international meeting in Heidelberg devoted to informatics and the
officially announced purpose of the meeting was to increase European
awareness of database issues to facilitate the development and submission
of high-quality proposals to the EC in pursuit of the several million ECUs
that are reportedly available for support of these projects. 

EMBL has also expressed hopes of developing a European center for
biological information, but with the changes at the top that have recently
occurred at EMBL, I cannot say whether those aspirations remain in place
or are subject to change. 

The bottom line is that federal support for biological databases and other
information resources is growing, but that obvious and clear guidelines
and policies are still emerging.  However, as millions and millions of
dollars are spent generating biological data, it is becoming clearer that
the entire undertaking will have failed mightily, if at some point in the
future it is easier and cheaper to repeat an experiment than it is to find
the original results in the literature or in a database.  This growing
realization is affecting attitudes, and budgets, at many agencies. 



Robert J. Robbins, Director
Laboratory for Applied Research in               Phone: (410) 955-9637
   Academic Information                          FAX:   (410) 955-0054
Welch Medical Library      
School of Medicine
Johns Hopkins University
1830 E. Monument Street, Room 3015      
Baltimore, MD  21205                          

rrobbins at


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