The Virginia Bioinformatics Institute (VBI) at Virginia Tech and its partners have been awarded a five-year, $10.3 million contract from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The purpose of this contract, which is one of the largest NIH contracts in Virginia Tech's history, is to establish a national Bioinformatics Resource Center (BRC) that consists of a multi-organism relational database in support of infectious disease research, especially as it affects biodefense and emerging infectious diseases.

VBI's BRC will focus on Brucella (causes Brucellosis in cattle, pigs, and humans), Caliciviruses (causes many of the viral dysenteries on cruise ships), hepatitis A, Rabiesvirus, Coxiella burnetii/Rickettsias (which cause Q fever, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and typhus).

VBI will serve as the lead research group with collaborators at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, Virginia Tech's Department of Computer Science, Loyola University Medical School, the University of Maryland, and Social and Scientific Systems Inc.

VBI's professor and Director Bruno Sobral will lead the project, and VBI's Joao Setubal, co-principal investigator for the project, will interact with other Virginia Tech faculty, including Stephen Boyle from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine and Deborah Hix and Naren Ramakrishnan from the Department of Computer Science.

"This NIH award highlights the importance of multiple-university collaborations in the rapidly developing fields of systems biology and bioinformatics," said Virginia Tech President Charles Steger. "The Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech has established itself as a leading center for advanced research."

The BRC also will involve key scientists at other institutions — Susan Baker, a Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) expert from Loyola University; Abdu Azad, an expert in Rickettsias from the University of Maryland; and Ingrid Stahlman, a senior conference manager who will handle workshop and meeting logistics from Social and Scientific Systems Inc.

"The BRC will allow researchers throughout the world to access, analyze, and study molecular data for these infectious diseases as interoperable components to support biological synthesis," said VBI's professor and Director Bruno Sobral. Currently, the U.S. Department of Defense-funded ToolBus/PathPort (Pathogen Portal) project at VBI directly addresses data and tool interoperation for infectious disease research communities and has already been leveraged on behalf of other contracts, such as the Middle Atlantic Regional Center of Excellence (MARCE). It will now play a crucial enabling role in the BRC's mission.

VBI's BRC will contain high-quality curated data and relevant tools to enable and facilitate researchers' analytical and visualization needs. Researchers will be able to store, view, display, query, annotate, and analyze genomic and related data and bibliographic information.

The BRC's VT partnerships provide a powerful scientific basis for moving ahead with cross-cutting collaborations. The bioinformatics and software development team at VBI (Sobral's Cyberinfrastructure Group) will provide software process and engineering management. Deborah Hix from the Systems Research Center at Virginia Tech will provide further strengths, applying usability engineering of software tools and systems built for the BRC.

Sobral's Cyberinfrastructure Group will also draw heavily on VBI's Core Computational Facility (CCF) team of systems administrators, database administrators, and network analysts to ensure that data from the BRC are available to the community via two avenues: a browser-accessible system and an application-based system (ToolBus/PathPort). This interaction leverages VBI's existing partnerships with Sun Microsystems, IBM Corporation, and TimeLogic.

NIAID awarded a total of six contracts to establish national BRC's. In addition to VBI, contracts were awarded to The Institute for Genomic Research, Board of Trustees for the University of Alabama at Birmingham, University of Notre Dame, Systems Research and Applications Corporation, and Northrup Grumman IT Federal Enterprise Solutions.

Established in 2000 as a Commonwealth of Virginia shared resource, the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute (VBI) at Virginia Tech has a research platform centered on understanding the "disease triangle" of host-pathogen-environment interactions. With almost $42 million in extramural research funding awarded to date, VBI researchers are working on many human, crop, and animal diseases.

Founded in 1872 as a land-grant college, Virginia Tech has grown to become the largest university in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Today, Virginia Tech's eight colleges are dedicated to putting knowledge to work through teaching, research, and outreach activities and to fulfilling its vision to be among the top 30 research universities in the nation. At its 2,600-acre main campus located in Blacksburg and other campus centers in Northern Virginia, Southwest Virginia, Hampton Roads, Richmond, and Roanoke, Virginia Tech enrolls more than 28,000 full- and part-time undergraduate and graduate students from all 50 states and more than 100 countries in 180 academic degree programs.