EMBOSS, the European Molecular Biology Open Software Suite, has received a vital funding boost from the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) that will guarantee its continued maintenance under an open source license for the next three years. This ends two years of uncertainty over the future of the project.
Until recently, EMBOSS was hosted by the Medical Research Council's Rosalind Franklin Centre for Genomics Research (RFCGR), where it was funded jointly by the BBSRC and the Medical Research Council.
With the announcement in April 2004 of the RFCGR's closure, the future of EMBOSS hung in the balance.
EMBOSS will remain freely available from emboss.sourceforge.net and anyone who wants to develop it further will have access to its source code.
"We're delighted that the BBSRC has recognized EMBOSS as an important tool for molecular biology," says project leader Peter Rice.
"The EMBOSS user community has been very patient, and it highlights a great benefit of open source software that even users in industry have continued to rely on EMBOSS despite the uncertainty about its future."
"This simply could not have happened if EMBOSS had been a commercial package under threat."
EMBOSS provides a package of around 300 applications for molecular biology and bioinformatics analysis. Molecular biologists use EMBOSS at all stages of their research, from planning experiments to analysing results.
It also has an application-programming interface (API) that is designed to enable software developers to write their own EMBOSS applications.
These can readily be strung together, allowing users to create 'workflows' that automate complex and time-consuming tasks.
EMBOSS has also been used in many commercial software developments and is included in commercial bioinformatics systems.
Its flexibility has made it an obvious core component of several data integration and bioinformatics infrastructure projects, including myGrid and EMBRACE. The new funding also provides helpdesk support for EMBOSS's users.
"As well as helping researchers with limited bioinformatics expertise to make the most of EMBOSS, we will be able to provide better support and documentation to the estimated 20% of our users who are also software developers," explains Alan Bleasby.
"We will encourage these experts to contribute their code to the project. In return, we will make their software widely available through the EMBOSS website and provide ongoing user support for it. This mechanism will help to ensure that EMBOSS evolves according to the needs of its users."