The Virginia Bioinformatics Institute (VBI) at Virginia Tech announced that $2.5 million has been allocated to its pathogen portal project (PathPort) in the Defense Appropriations Bill for 2006. Congress approved the Department of Defense’s federal budget on Dec. 21, 2005.
The new funding will enable researchers at VBI to continue the planned expansion and deployment of PathPort, an Internet portal that allows scientists around the globe to access the very latest research tools as well as use vital information on key pathogens and infectious diseases.
Dave Sebring, associate director of corporate and government relations at VBI, said “We welcome this further commitment from federal sources to what we see as a key resource in the fight against bioterrorism and infectious diseases. PathPort has already proven itself to be an invaluable research tool to detect, identify and devise treatment strategies for pathogens that cause a significant burden to public health.” He added: “Worldwide, it remains a top priority to put in place a comprehensive infrastructure to deal with the intentional and non-intentional spread of infectious diseases.”
Oswald Crasta, director of bioinformatics at VBI’s Cyberinfrastructure Group, said “Work on PathPort began in 2002 and it has been exciting to see researchers adopt the applications, tools and curated data that this portal provides for their research projects. In PathPort, a system that promotes the seamless integration of different databases, tools and Internet domains, scientists are able to visualize scientific information on various biodefense pathosystems, analyze the high-throughput data from sequencing and gene expression, for example, as well as use newly available tools for biological research. This renewed funding will be instrumental in allowing VBI to pursue its ambitious development program for PathPort with a vision of enabling the scientific community to generate new knowledge and move towards developing countermeasures against a wide range of diseases.”
PathPort, which is short for pathogen portal, combines information from around the world about pathogens with powerful computer analysis and visualization tools to aid in the rapid detection, identification, and forensic attribution of high-priority pathogens. The pathogens included in PathPort cause infectious diseases or have the potential to be used as biological weapons. To provide this platform, VBI performs the following: acquisition, vetting, consolidation, and annotation of genomic data; the creation of data models, the graphical user interface, bioinformatics tools for analysis, and the portal itself; development of methods to validate candidate target sequences; and research into host responses to infection. The software infrastructure supporting the PathPort project is built around ToolBus, a client-side software that allows the seamless integration of different computers. ToolBus allows researchers to easily access web-services from all over the world as well as programs and files on their desktop computer. The Virginia Bioinformatics Institute (VBI) at Virginia Tech has a research platform centered on understanding the “disease triangle” of host-pathogen-environment interactions.