The Auckland biotech community wants to establish a mirror website of public bioinformatics databases from which any New Zealand organisation can retrieve data without incurring international traffic charges.
Representatives from 10 organisations met last month to assess the scale of the task, including infrastructure requirements such as network bandwidth, disk storage, personnel and servers.
Auckland University and Massey University’s Allan Wilson Centre are possible hosts for the mirror site. Each will present proposals and costings at a further meeting this month.
Paul Bickerstaff, informatics manager of biotech company ViaLactia, says before his firm negotiated a flat rate its internet bill was up to $9000 a month and it was only downloading a fraction of the data it wanted. That sum has been almost halved although it still takes hours to download the data required.
Bickerstaff says for smaller companies, downloading a small set of the BLAST databases is a significant cost. He knows of several one-person biotechnology consultant companies.
The type of data stored includes DNA sequence data, protein structure and functional domain profiles. Biotechnology organisations compare their own sequences against the data stored in the public databases. The amount of data stored in the databases is doubling every 12 to 18 months.
Funding for the project hasn’t been determined at this stage.
“There is a hope that we could get some support from a funding agency but it’s not clear how much would be needed and what the appropriate agency would be,” says Bickerstaff. “The feeling is that it would aid the biotech industry in New Zealand to get off the ground, particularly the smaller companies.”
Dr Peter Hunter of Auckland University says if it were to host the site it would require an extra terabyte of storage.
The mirror-site initiative coincides with moves by the Next Generation Internet (NGI) consortium to pilot a 2.5Gbit/s network in New Zealand.
Bickerstaff says while this isn’t absolutely necessary to the mirror-site project it would be difficult to achieve without a high-speed network.
For its part, the NGI consortium is meeting this month to discuss the next phase of the Internet 2 project, with Auckland University looking likely to be the first node to go live.