Scientific Background for the UBTI Programme

'Unifying Biology through Informatics' is a response to the IUBS agenda of 'Unified Biology', which was evidenced by the 2015 General Assembly: Frontiers in Unified Biology. In 2009, the National Academies (2009) concluded that Biology will be transformed by the intrusion of data and other information management tools. Information management tools are needed to draw together, organise, and analyse scientific data collected around the globe and in multiple subdisciplines to address the new major challenges that involve the natural world (invasive species, habitat degradation, climate change). Some domains of biology were born digital and have moved quickly towards Big Data agendas. What is absent is an infrastructure that is appropriate to the special needs of Biodiversity, and to the long tail of smaller data sources. The discovery, collation, organization and management of information is hampered by the fact that taxa may be referred to by various scientific and colloquial names, or by molecular identifiers. The technology is available to overcome the problems, but a mechanism to transform prototype environments into an integrated stable cyberinfrastructure has yet to be articulated.

Progress requires an informed realizable vision, social change focussed on open data and collective research, technical changes associated with data identifiers, ontologies and physical data management facilities, political will to build international agendas, long term funding, and a greater role for institutions such as libraries and museums that have a commitment to curation and preservation of objects alongside newer data repositories (such as Dryad, DataONE, Figshare). This Programme will present a vision of an infrastructure that has the potential to interconnect the digital information across all areas of biology. As an initial step, it will engage with the community to identify how best to achieve an open communal system for indexing digital data about organisms. Through this will make data in biology more discoverable and more useful in addressing large scale research and societal problems.

Publications on that topic

Hardisty A, D Roberts, The Biodiversity Informatics Community (2013): A decadal view of biodiversity informatics: challenges and priorities. BMC Ecology 13, 16. doi: 10.1186/1472-6785-13-16

National Research Council of the National Academies (2009): A new biology for the 21st century. The National Academies Press.

Weber A (2013): Enlivenment Towards a fundamental shift in the concepts of nature, culture and politics. Vol 31, Publication Series Ecology, Heinrich Böll Foundation.