SIB Days 2018: Swiss Bioinformatics connected

Hundreds of SIB Members from across Switzerland came to Biel/Bienne on 26 June to attend the SIB Days – our 2-day internal conference and a unique opportunity for the bioinformatics community to connect. Cast a look back on this special edition with interviews, pictures, a digest and a film.

firework "Firework", by Mark Ibberson senior scientist at SIB’s Vital-IT Group: this graphic is an illustration of a network of relationships (arcs) between genes, cellular pathways and traits associated with diabetes. “Meaningful representation of scientific data matter greatly for communicating results and ideas within the research community as well as to the outside world”, he explained in a special talk.

From bitcoins to single cells, and health data to Big Data

Keynote speakers and special topics talks presented the audience with new perspectives as well as the latest trends in bioinformatics in a variety of domains.

DNA, data storage, bitcoins and even James Joyce, were just a few of the themes Nick Goldman (EMBL-EBI) used in his keynote lecture to highlight the pervasive and crucial part bioinformatics plays in research and our everyday life. In a second keynote, Fabian Theis (Institute of Computational Biology at the Helmholtz Zentrum, München) presented the ambitious Human Cell Atlas project – or, in other words, how to map every single cell in the human body.

Other special topics talks also shed light on two specific projects led in the context of the Swiss Personalized Health Network initiative, whose aim is to bring the country at the forefront of personalized health. SIB Group Leader Manfred Claassen (ETHZ) presented the PRECISE project with a view to identify biomarkers and therapeutic targets in inflammatory disease immunotherapy, while Ernst Hafen (ETHZ) presented the MIDATA initiative, whose goal is to put citizens at the heart of personal health data sharing by giving them direct control over their data.

Finally, in the last special topic talk of the conference, SIB Group Leader Christophe Dessimoz addressed the four main challenges of Big Data (Volume, Variety, Velocity and Veracity) in terms of orthology and the latest advances in the field.

sib days words cloudGraphic illustration of the most frequent words encountered across all abstracts submitted to the SIB Days 2018 Scientific Committee

Spotlight on the winners of the SIB Awards 2018

Among the ten young researchers selected to pitch their work in front of a jury panel, Emma Ricart, a PhD student from the Proteome Informatics Group in Geneva (Group Leader: Frédérique Lisacek), Adithi Varadarajan, also a PhD student from the Bioinformatics and Proteogenomics Group in Wädenswil (Group Leader: Christian Ahrens) both won the Best Lightening Talk Award.

The Best Poster Award went to David Dylus, from the Computational Evolutionary Biology and Genomics Group, Lausanne (Group Leader: Christophe Dessimoz).

A little more about their research and themselves:

  • What was the research you presented?
    Emma Ricart: I presented the tools I have been developing during my PhD to study non-ribosomal peptides. NRPro is a tool used to analyse the tandem mass spectrometry of these compounds, and Bionotator was developed to convert a given chemical structure into a monomeric representation of the molecule.
    Adithi Varadarajan: During my talk I presented my PhD in computational proteogenomics, whose aim is twofold: 1) to develop an integrated proteogenomic database that covers the entire protein-coding potential of a prokaryotic genome, and 2) to release it as individual downloadable databases for the microbial research community.
    David Dylus: My poster was about a novel pipeline that we are developing called read2tree. The novelty lies in the fact that we skip the traditional steps of assembly, gene annotation and orthology prediction to directly generate a dataset based on the experimental results and a set of reference data. In my poster, I presented several benchmarks showing that our pipeline can work with reads coming from the three major technologies and that it produces a nearly identical tree compared to a traditional pipeline.

  • What aspect of your work do you like the most?
    E.R.: The originality that involves developing new tools using your own ideas.
    A.V.: The ability to use state-of-the-art technologies and computer algorithms to address the unsolved mysteries in genome annotations of prokaryotes. And needless to say, my nerd team and colleagues!
    D.D.: Spending my days between a high variety of different activities, from coding and supervising to project development, and the fact that I can do this from any location that has internet access.

  • When you are not in front of the computer, you are...
    E.R.: I love cinema so probably watching a movie.
    A.V.: Playing badminton, cooking and meeting friends.
    D.D.: Either going out or travelling.

  • A fond memory of the SIB Days 2018?
    E.R.: The beautiful cocktail party next to the lake.
    A.V.: I enjoyed every bit of the conference, including the talks, the networking opportunities and of course the unforgettable gala evening! Thanks SIB for this amazing opportunity.
    D.D.: All the discussions I had about science with SIB Members and naturally a lot of great memories from the fantastic party.

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The three winners of the SIB Awards 2018, from left to right: Emma Ricart (Lightning Talk Award), Adithi Varadarajan (Lightning Talk Award) and David Dylus (Best Poster Award)

A memorable SIB 20th anniversary celebration evening

The lakeside of Biel/Bienne provided an exceptional environment to welcome the SIB Day participants, as well as a few special guests from national and international institutions (SERI, ELIXIR, EMBL-EBI, ...).

« Thanks to SIB and its role as first-mover, Switzerland has been a pioneer in the field of bioinformatics » said State Secretary Mauro Dell’Ambrogio during his address. He extended his thanks, in the name of society, to all actors of the crucial discipline that bioinformatics has become.

The evening also saw the launch of two new projects: ‘A brief history of SIB’, an animation film that retraces the remarkable evolution of the Institute, and a book ‘Science Fiction’ that compiles over 80 pictures of SIB’s Group Leaders by the Swiss photographer Nicolas Righetti, as well as recalls the history of bioinformatics in several domains.

Participants also compared their respective gaming skills in a live demo of ‘Genome Jumper’, SIB’s mobile educational game to explore the genome and which was released a few weeks earlier.

The celebration evening, as well as all the 20th anniversary projects were financed thanks to the financial contribution of our generous sponsors (see all projects and sponsors).

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Discover the movie ‘Swiss Bioinformatics: more than data’, filmed during the SIB Days 2018