The First UK Conference of Bioinformatics and Computational Biology

Last week Earlham Institute hosted the inaugural UK Conference of Bioinformatics and Computational Biology in association with ELIXIR-UK. This was originally planned to be a physical event; however, given the current situation, it was pivoted to a fully virtual conference.

The conference was set up as a broad event for all members of the life sciences data community in the UK. Many of the speakers mentioned the same emerging methods, including AI and database management, demonstrating that this conference is an important avenue for interdisciplinary knowledge exchange.

The wide breadth of science covered was excellently demonstrated by Professor Ross King from the Chalmers University of Technology, who showed how his work in robotics and machine learning is being used to identify unknown genes in yeast, work on drug discovery for tropical diseases, and identify unknown insect diversity across the planet. 

Coronavirus was inevitably a dominant topic: Professor Charlotte Deane from the University of Oxford presented her work developing a new Coronavirus antibody database (CoV-AbDab), and Dr Sam Nicholls from the University of Birmingham explained how he has successfully pivoted his work to allow the development of COG-UK using CLIMB, which has been instrumental in tracking the spread of SARS-CoV-2 across the UK. This ability to adapt quickly to new and emerging challenges has been vital in the response to the Coronavirus pandemic and has shown how important it is to have sustained quality research infrastructure which can be used to rapidly respond to crises. 

On the first day of the conference, all sessions were chaired by ELIXIR-UK members, and several of the speakers were also members. The talks successfully showcased the huge breadth of services, groups, communities, and projects being undertaken in the UK through ELIXIR. Dr Tim Beck from the University of Leicester discussed the work of the ELIXIR Health Data Focus Group and their role in identifying communities and gaps across the network, and Professor Susanna Sansone from Oxford University presented the FAIRplus project, in which ELIXIR is a partner.

On the second day, ELIXIR-UK’s Christine Orengo chaired a session on structural bioinformatics. There was a strong AI theme across the whole day, with Dr Laura-Jayne Gardiner from IBM presenting her work on using AI for biomarker discovery, and Professor David Jones from UCL explaining how machine learning can be used to predict protein structure and function.

The conference was a huge success, with around 150 delegates attending. A massive thank you to all the chairs, speakers, attendees and to the Earlham Institute for organising such a fantastic conference.

To read more about how the conference came about and ELIXIR-UK’s involvement:

Find the full programme and speaker bios:

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