Since 1st April, Christophe Dessimoz is SIB’s new Joint Executive Director, alongside Ron Appel, a founding member of the institute. Deeply committed to the Swiss life science ecosystem, he is also an Associate Professor at the University of Lausanne with an international aura in comparative genomics and Big Data analysis. We asked him how much of an asset his position as researcher is for this role, and his take on SIB’s mission to sustain biological knowledge.

SHORT BIO

Master’s in Biology in 2003 at ETH Zurich
PhD in Computer Science in 2009 at ETH Zurich
Postdoc at the European Bioinformatics Institute, Cambridge (UK) from 2011 to 2013
Faculty member at the University College London from 2013 to 2022
SNSF professor at the University of Lausanne since 2015 and Associate Professor since 2021
SIB Group Leader since 2016
SIB Joint Executive Director since April 2022

Today, you are taking up your role as Joint Executive Director of SIB, the national organization for life science data: how is your position as a researcher an asset in this position? (see Profile below)

First of all, I believe deeply in SIB’s mission of supporting life sciences with cutting-edge resources, expertise and methods, and of coordinating bioinformatics on the national and international level, because I know first-hand that we researchers need solid infrastructure to perform our best work.

Furthermore, SIB’s hybrid structure, with SIB experts embedded in research groups across Swiss universities and research institutes, enables it to remain at the forefront of research. For instance, all four of this year’s additions to the SIB Resource portfolio (ASAP, Cellosaurus, Glyco@Expasy, and Nextstrain) emerged in affiliated research groups, and will be further developed by SIB Employees. This is the Swiss model at its best—a federation of diverse groups with a strong identity and a reputation for quality and innovation. A hybrid organization of this kind offers real added value for carrying out the mission entrusted to SIB by the Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation SERI. If SIB did not exist, it would be necessary to invent it.

Where do you see SIB’s key strengths?

It is not for nothing that SIB is recognized as a model in Europe; its role in making biological knowledge broadly available through biocuration to specialists and non-specialists alike, is a clear benefit for the scientific community. It is also particularly relevant in the age of AI, as machines can be seen as the ultimate non-specialists.

The quality and dependability of the infrastructure solutions the institute builds for the life science community is another clear strength, as well as the fact that it is an active and trusted partner nationally and internationally, alongside the remarkable impact of its training activities.

Finally, while SIB has negligible material assets and intellectual property since data are open and code mostly Open Source, it is its exceptional human assets, through its 200 employees and 600 members, that move the institute forward.

Overall, SIB's core expertise in data science is key to the ongoing digital transformation in biology and medicine.

How do you recharge your batteries outside of science?

I am fond of jazz music. When my son started learning the guitar a few years ago, I decided to learn alongside him and it’s been a blast. Something unexplainable, almost transcendental takes place when your fingers unconsciously find the right place. I’ve also been a kids’ football coach for the past three years. I used to be one of those annoying parents who shouts a lot from the sidelines and now, as a coach, I finally have some legitimacy in doing so.

PROFILE


An insider of Swiss bioinformatics, deeply committed to the data science community…


Christophe Dessimoz is an internationally recognized scientist and a faculty member at University College London since 2013, who is also intimately familiar with the Swiss life science ecosystem. He has always been deeply committed to the life of the institute as an SIB Group Leader and as an elected member of the SIB Board of Directors since 2018. His enthusiasm for bridging the gap between wet lab and computer-based approaches led him to chair the Life Science Switzerland (LS2) Bioinformatics Intersection from its inception to January 2022.

…with an international aura in comparative genomics and big data analysis

Christophe leads a highly collaborative and interdisciplinary research group. His team develops the OMA database, which relates genomes across the tree of life, and has been part of SIB’s resource portfolio since 2012. Among several distinctions, he was awarded the Overton Prize by the International Society for Computational Biology (ISCB) in 2019. Not only passionate about conducting research, but also about communicating its relevance to society, Christophe also engages in scientific outreach projects: in 2021 the project "In the Light of Evolution” co-developed with other SIB Employees to demystify evolutionary biology, received the Optimus Agora Prize of the SNSF.