Netherlands joins international ELIXIR consortium on biological data

Utrecht, 3 February 2014

On the 28th of January 2014, the Dutch State Secretary for Education, Culture and Science, Sander Dekker, has ratified the international ELIXIR Consortium Agreement (ECA). This makes The Netherlands the seventh country – and eighth formal member of the ELIXIR research infrastructure with the tagline ‘Data for Life’. 

Data for Life
As the tagline suggests, the ELIXIR infrastructure is primarily concerned with data issues in the life sciences, and it aims to ensure that data are there for a ‘life-time’. ELIXIR is concerned with data stewardship in its broadest sense. It aims to secure sustained access to global research data resources, standards for data capture and data interoperability, as well as the bioinformatics tools and e-infrastructures to securely share, manage and analyse research data in advanced life science research. ELIXIR also bundles the European excellence in bioinformatics training to support academic and industrial researchers in their discovery projects. Dutch Government supports ELIXIR “The world around us changes rapidly”, says Sander Dekker. “The digital world we live in also affects the way we do science. Just as for research publications, this is also true for research data. In order to store scientific data and make them available for future research it is essential to ensure good ‘data stewardship’ is in place. I am therefore delighted that ELIXIR will play a leading role in achieving this in all biological fields. The Netherlands as one of the founding members of ELIXIR can play an important role.”

ELIXIR-NL organised by DTL
As an international research infrastructure, ELIXIR is being set up as a hub-and-nodes structure, with international coordination provided from the ELIXIR hub in Hinxton, UK. The Dutch ELIXIR node will be hosted by the Dutch Techcentre for Life Sciences (DTL). In the international ELIXIR consortium, ELIXIR-NL will initially focus on data ‘interoperability’, training and e-infrastructure services. “In order to get the most out of life science data, they need to be understandable by both humans and computers”, says Barend Mons, Head of ELIXIR-NL, and work package leader ‘Data Interoperability’. “Next to the immensity and complexity of contemporary biological data, this need for machine and mind readability poses a daunting challenge. ELIXIR is in a unique position to drive standards, training, incentives and best practices in the global life sciences data landscape. I am very excited that ELIXIR-NL is now a formal player in this grand challenge and I look forward to working closely with other life science infrastructures such as BBMRI, EATRIS and EuroBioImaging to jointly ensure ‘data for life’.”

Recognizing that expertise is crucial, ELIXIR-NL will have a very strong training component through the bioinformatics expertise built up over the years in NBIC, and now gathered in the new research school for Bioinformatics and Systems Biology ( And as data and the associated software need to be hosted, securely exchanged and processed well in international collaboration, ELIXIR-NL also adds advanced e-infrastructure service capabilities as a critical part of the ELIXIR infrastructure.

Dutch contribution to ELIXIR
“I am delighted that the Netherlands has made the important step of ratifying the ELIXIR Consortium Agreement”, State Secretary Sander Dekker adds. “The Netherlands already has a close-knit, structured bioinformatics community and through participation in ELIXIR I’m confident that the rest of Europe will also benefit from Dutch expertise in data interoperability, e-infrastructure and training. As open access to research findings and data becomes the scientific norm the ability for researchers to interconnect and analyse data, regardless of source, is critical to drive innovation in academia and industry alike.”

The Dutch contribution was made possible by financial contributions of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) and the Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development (ZonMw).

Dr. Frans Martens, director Earth and Life Sciences NWO-ALW: “Participating in ELIXIR will not only bring more value for money in research in green, white and red life sciences and technology research, but will also enable new discoveries and open new avenues in those fields.”

Edvard Beem, deputy director ZonMw: “Our concept of health is changing, from the absence of disease or disability towards the enablement to cope, adapt and self-manage. The concept of medicine is thereby changing as well, from a bulk towards a personalized approach. For this new medicine we need big data, biobanks, translational research, early diagnostics, stratified clinical trials. ELIXIR is one but essential bead on the string of infrastructures supporting personalized health advancement.”

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