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Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics Designated an FAO Reference Centre

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The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has appointed SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics as the FAO Reference Centre for bioinformatics. SIB’s expertise together with its scientific services led to the choice of the Institute.

The Federal Councillor Johann Schneider-Ammann, in charge of the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research, is delighted with this nomination that he says “honours Switzerland”.

SIB is collaborating with FAO on the screening, monitoring and follow-up of zoonotic diseases (or zoonoses), which are animal infectious diseases that can be transmitted to humans, such as avian influenza, and also on animal diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease.

Achieving food security and safety for all is at the heart of FAO's fight against hunger and poverty. Hence the organization supports countries in their efforts to detect and monitor zoonotic diseases as important factors in the food chain.

In the case of transboundary disease emergencies, FAO works with countries to ensure they have the knowledge, skills and capacities to respond rapidly and efficiently.

The bioinformatics tools developed at SIB in partnership with FAO have made it possible to improve the early detection and fast alert system, by combining epidemiological and genetic information related to zoonoses, as well as analyses and modelling of the risks of pathogen emergence and spreading.

Furthermore, SIB provides open-access databases such as Viralzone (the virus knowledge base maintained by the SIB Swiss-Prot group), OpenFlu and OpenFMD (resources on influenza and foot-and-mouth disease, respectively, which are maintained by the SIB Vital-IT group). In particular, these databases provide information on the pathogens’ genome, their epidemiology, evolution and parenthood.

The integration of these resources will help the FAO to address the many future challenges related to the management, sharing and analysis of epidemiological and genetic data. FAO also wishes to extend the use of open-access databases, a field in which SIB has demonstrated world-renowned expertise with, for example, UniProtKB/Swiss-Prot. Within the context of the FAO/SIB collaboration, SIB has developed e-learning modules on bioinformatics in animal viral pathogens that are publicly accessible.

The unique SIB institutional network, which federates 56 bioinformatics service and research groups, will allow FAO to benefit from privileged access to diverse expert skills in the domain. “SIB has been chosen for its high-level scientific expertise, its commitment to strengthening its capacities as well as for the services it offers”, declared Johann Schneider-Ammann, who added that “FAO’s choice honours my country and I am delighted with it”.