[Arabidopsis] Urgent: TAIR Funding in Jeopardy!

Kieber, Joe J. (Biology) via arab-gen%40net.bio.net (by jkieber from bio.unc.edu)
Fri May 29 20:01:22 EST 2009

Dear Arabidopsis community,

I am writing on behalf of the Multinational Arabidopsis Steering
Committee (MASC) to bring to your attention an important matter
regarding the funding of TAIR (The Arabidopsis Information Resource:
opsis.org/>  ) . The TAIR board of directors (Joe Ecker, Chuck Gasser
and Mary Lou Guerinot) have brought to my attention the fact that the
funding of TAIR is currently in jeopardy. TAIR funding is due to expire
at the end of August this year (3.5 months from now). Although a
proposal for continued support was submitted to NSF in August 2008, NSF
has not yet made a decision and TAIR  staff have gotten early
indications that NSF doesn't want to provide ongoing long term support
for TAIR but would prefer that TAIR find other sources of funding
(subscription fees, other granting agencies). If you value TAIR as a
free, open resource to the Arabidopsis community (and beyond), it is
imperative that the NSF be made aware of the widespread strong support
for TAIR in the community.

I am writing to ask that if you agree that an open, freely accessible
TAIR is an essential tool for the future of Arabidopsis research, you
write a letter of support. The TAIR board has asked that you address
your letter to the "TAIR Board of Directors" and send it by e-mail to
any of the following:

csgasser from ucdavis.edu 
ecker from salk.edu 
Mary.Lou.Guerinot from Dartmouth.edu 

or send it to me at: jkieber from unc.edu

 Below is a letter that I wrote in case you need help getting started,
but your own words would be even more effective.

 If you're very pressed for time but still want to help, I also include
another letter at the bottom for multiple signatures.  If you prefer
this  option, let Chuck Gasser (csgasser from ucdavis.edu ) know that you
agree to have your name added to the list of signatories.

Please act on this quickly as the decision regarding the future of TAIR
will be made very soon.


Joseph Kieber

Chair, Multinational Arabidopsis Steering Committee

Professor and Associate Chair

Department of Biology

University of North Carolina

Coker Hall, CB#3280

Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3280




My letter:

To: TAIR Board of Directors:

I just became aware that TAIR's current funding will end on August 31st
of this year and that a proposal to continue support of this resource is
currently under consideration at NSF.  Please convey my strong support
of this proposal to the NSF for continued funding of TAIR.  

It is absolutely essential to the Arabidopsis community that TAIR
continues to function.  TAIR has been an invaluable resource not only
for Arabidopsis researchers because it provides the ONLY reliable entry
portal to plant gene structure, transcriptome information, and it is
connected to the most important other freely available analysis tools.
.  TAIR provides easy access to many non-Arabidopsis data and biological
resources through search interfaces and web-based data analysis tools.
Rather than considering termination of support, TAIR should receive
substantially more support.

TAIRs mission will continue to grow in importance as large new datasets
continue to be generated, such as the interactome,  proteome,
importantly also the epigenome, and the  large scale sequencing of many
Arabidopsis accessions, and soon of Arabidopsis relatives.
Notwithstanding the importance of crop-centered databases, TAIR is
equally essential as a check for information that is obtained with crop
species because it includes the information on fundamental biological
and evolutionary processes in plants that is referenced in other plant

TAIR access which is currently free to all should remain free to all.
Requiring TAIR to become self-supporting through subscriptions would be
problematic for many reasons.  The most important consideration is that
fees would eliminate the participation of many researchers. This would
be discrimination based on wealth. Also, a number of other fee-based
databases would emerge inevitably resulting in the fragmentation of
knowledge, and the generation of privileged knowledge, which would in
essence countermand the attempts made by NSF to foster integration, for
example through the iPlant initiative. 


Arguments against a subscription model for TAIR support (please alter
wording if you use these):

TAIR shares its data freely with other organizations such as NCBI
(providing new genome releases), GO, BioGRID, and the Plant Ontology
Consortium.  Future iPlant projects are also likely to need access to
TAIR data. Charging a fee for access would work against the concept of
free data sharing and motivate TAIR to stop sharing their data with
other groups. It could also result in large institutions setting up an
internal copy of TAIR after paying for a single subscription or
developing a similar resource for storing their own data.


ABRC depends on the TAIR database to provide access to Arabidopsis seed
and DNA stocks.  These biological tools have leveled the playing field
for plant researchers all over the world, making it possible for
researchers in labs that are not well funded to do cutting edge science
without a huge monetary investment.  A subscription fee to use TAIR will
discourage researchers from exploring these resources and finding the
materials they need.  Also, high school and college teachers who use
these resources for teaching purposes will find it difficult to pay a


If TAIR charges a subscription fee for database access, I would be less
motivated to provide my data to them.  It's not clear to me why should I
pay to access data that was freely provided by the community.  If TAIR
receives less community data it will become a less valuable resource and
the motivation to pay a subscription fee will decrease even further.


TAIR collects data from Plant Physiology authors at the time of
publication and I've heard they're planning to expand this to other
journals.  However, journals are struggling with open access and may not
like it if TAIR begins to charge a subscription fee for displaying data
from their articles when they're providing free access to the article.
It's possible that journals would reconsider their participation or
would ask for a portion of the subscription fees if TAIR began to charge
for access. 




Community Letter for common signatures:

Dear TAIR Advisory Board,

I'm writing to express my concern about the imminent expiration of
funding for TAIR at the end of August 2009.  TAIR serves as the central
repository for data on the model plant Arabidopsis and I consider it
essential for my research.  Important aspects of TAIR's work include
generating new genome releases yearly with updated gene structure and
function information, gathering new data from the literature and
community submissions and adding it to the database, and providing easy
and convenient access to Arabidopsis data and biological resources
through search interfaces and web-based data analysis tools.  TAIR is
essential to a wide range of biological research ranging from
development of new crops to increasing our understanding of fundamental
biological and evolutionary processes in plants and other organisms.

Please let NSF know that I support continued funding for this project so
that the amount and types of data housed by TAIR will continue to grow
and will remain freely accessible to all without restriction.  


Name / Affiliation / Research area





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