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Science Minister David Willetts announces £8.5 million funding for medical microbial bioinformatic research led by Warwick

pallenThe Minister for Science and Universities, the Rt Hon David Willetts, will announce today at the High Performance Computing and Big Data Conference in London that the Medical Research Council (MRC) has made an investment of £32 million across five major awards, to improve capability, capacity and capital infrastructure in medical bioinformatics.

Professor Mark Pallen, Warwick Medical School, will lead on The MRC Consortium for Medical Microbial Bioinformatics which will receive £8.5 million.

The five awards will strengthen collaborative links, improve tools and infrastructure for researchers and will support the safe use of biological and patient data for medical research across all diseases. The awards will also support career opportunities for computational scientists, technologists and programme leaders, enhancing the UK’s skills in this area.

The medical bioinformatics initiative will build new ways of linking across complex biological data and health records to solve key medical challenges.

Universities and Science Minister Rt Hon David Willets said, "Making the most of large and complex data is a huge priority for government as it has the potential to drive research and development, increase productivity and innovation and ultimately transform lives.

"This funding will help build UK medical research capability and improve collaboration across institutions, academia, the NHS and industry."

The MRC Consortium for Medical Microbial Bioinformatics will be led by Warwick Medical School alongside co-applicants Swansea University, Cardiff University, Public Health Wales NHS Trust and the University of Birmingham.

Professor Pallen explained, “We think that this will probably be the largest computational facility dedicated to medical microbial bioinformatics anywhere in the world, which reflects recognition within the UK of the importance of infection on the national and global stage”

Alongside the substantial investment in hardware, the funding will enable the team to deliver training in bioinformatics to a wide range of users from universities and the health services, alongside fellowships for three talented British bioinformaticians.

Professor Pallen added, “We aim to create a one-stop-shop for microbial bioinformatics, where users can access all the relevant pipelines and programs, data and databases.”

"Rather than taking aim at the fixed, relatively tractable target of the human genome, in this consortium we will focus instead on genomic information derived from hundreds of bacterial pathogens and thousands of commensal species: a distributed and dynamic system of many millions of genes, at least two orders of magnitude larger than the human gene set.”

“We aim to develop tools for understanding the rich and dynamic community of microorganisms associated with the human body - a community now known to play a decisive role in the balance between health and disease, even in medical conditions not usually considered as microbial in origin – for example, obesity.”

Notes to editors:

For further information or to arrange interviews with Professor Pallen, contact Luke Harrison, Press Officer, on +44 (0) 2476 574255/150483 or +44 (0) 7920531221, or by email on

More about the MRC Consortium for Medical Microbial Bioinformatics

The Consortium will be headed up by Professor Mark Pallen, a Warwick microbiologist, dually qualified as a medic and scientist, with a track record of research-council-funded investigation that spans bioinformatics and laboratory-based research. He will be assisted by co-Director, Dr Sam Sheppard at Swansea, who brings to the consortium a world-class reputation in bacterial genomics and links to e-Health research. At Warwick Pallen will work alongside co-investigator Mark Achtman, who brings a world-class reputation in bacterial population genetics and genomic epidemiology/evolution and Chris Quince, who has a track record of pioneering research into the bioinformatics of microbial communities.

The Consortium will facilitate a wide spectrum of research, including the biology of pathogens and related model organisms, the emergence, evolution and spread of pathogens in hospitals and in the wider community, the integration of patient and pathogen data, the mechanisms, mobilisation and dissemination of antimicrobial resistance, the identification of targets for new drugs and vaccines and new sequence-based approaches to diagnosis. It will forge links with partners in public health microbiology and in the NHS.