BioSci launches virtual scientific publishing network to create European Biotechnology Research Area

Brussels 13 September 2001The European Commission recently awarded 2,4 million euro to the BioSci project, which will interlink genomic and proteomic data with the latest in life sciences research literature. Support comes from the "accompanying measures" section of the Fifth Framework Programme's Quality of Life programme. The service aims to establish Europe's position at the forefront of the biotechnology industry and provide scientists and researchers with new ways of navigating an increasing deluge of biological information.

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The project will bring together publishers, scientists, libraries and funding agencies from Germany, Spain, France, and the United Kingdom. "This is the European way", stated Carlos Martinez Riera from the Commission's Research DG, referring to this close collaboration. Commissioner Philippe Busquin emphasised that the Commission regards this virtual network as a step towards the creation of the European Research Area (ERA).

The diffusion of scientific information transcends limits posed by technical questions and has huge cultural, economic, ethical and educational implications, according to the EU Research Commissioner during a discussion at the launch of the E-BioSci project on September 6, 2001. The network of information resources will include biological databases, articles published in scientific journals, advanced search functions and facilities to retrieve data and images.

Mr. Busquin emphasised the benefits offered by the information service to both the scientific community and the society at large. The Commissioner believes the venture, which in itself is a research project, will facilitate and develop the advancement of knowledge. Les Grivell, the BioSci project co-ordinator from the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO) talked about the "revolution in biology".

"The revolution is driving very dramatic changes in the way biology is conducted and knowledge disseminated", explained Mr. Grivell. To support his case, Mr. Grivell cited statistics stating that whilst in 1988, 20.000 new records were entered into biotechnology databases during the year, the same number was being added to the databases each day in the year 2000.

He noted also how dependent biotechnology has become on digital technology, particularly with regard to spectra and images, which are impossible to capture in print form. BioSci will be pioneering as it will offer free access to as much published material as possible, Mr. Grivell promised. It will also offer speed of access, back-up facilities, streamlined searches and the possibility to make enquiries in various languages.

The project will be supported by the European Commission for three years, during which time it will run on a not-for-profit basis, whilst protecting access to commercially produced material. This potential problem was raised by Julio Celis, representing both the Federation of Biochemical Societies (FEBS) and the European Molecular Biology Conference (EMBC).

"We have to be careful not to give everything for free, otherwise we won't exist any more", Mr. Celis stated. A similar point was made by Jayne Marks from the journal Nature. "If things were free after six months, libraries would not be able to afford to pay for six months", she claimed. "Some of the goals are quite ambitious and we will need significant research to achieve them", responded project co-ordinator Les Grivell.

The request for the free publication of research results on-line is clearly a popular one, demonstrated by a recent appeal for a boycott of scientific publishers who are refusing to do so, which collected over 26,000 signatures in over 150 countries. The root of the protests is that knowledge is a public asset, which should be accessible to all, particularly as research is often financed by public money.

Mr. Celis did however have much praise for the initiative, particularly for the assistance it will offer to less affluent countries. "I am elated with the fact that this is going to become a reality", he stated. "It will help less favoured countries gain faster access to information that is already there."

In conclusion, Commissioner Busquin declared his desire to see Europe become a pioneer in the establishment of an electronic scientific publishing system open to all. "I see this initiative as an opportunity not to be missed, both to increase the competitiveness of our editorial industry and to improve access for researchers and society in general to quality scientific publications", he stated.


Leslie Versweyveld

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