Funding boost for cloud-computing supporting microbial bioinformatics

23rd April 2020

Quadram Institute Bioscience has received £2million from UKRI to fund state-of-the-art cloud-computing infrastructure to enable UK microbiologists to analyse microbial sequences, including COVID-19 viral genomes.

Quadram Institute Bioscience announces the launch of CLIMB-BIG-DATA, an ambitious five-year collaborative cross-institutional programme to deliver a robust and user-friendly cloud-computing infrastructure for microbial bioinformatics.

The aim is to provide microbiologists across the UK with the computational infrastructure and bioinformatics tools to analyse DNA and RNA sequences from microbes, allowing them to cope with the deluge of “big data” created by modern sequencing pipelines.

The programme builds on the success of a previous project, CLIMB (“Cloud Infrastructure in Microbial Bioinformatics”). It is supported by a £2million grant from UKRI, but during the coming five years the project will steadily become self-sufficient by recruiting funds from users.

CLIMB-BIG-DATA is a partnership of eight institutions. It is led by Quadram Institute Bioscience on the Norwich Research Park, plus the Universities of Bath, Birmingham, Cardiff, Leicester, Swansea and Warwick, together with the MRC Unit The Gambia at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

The project currently maintains computer hardware at four university sites in Birmingham, Warwick, Cardiff and Swansea and runs software systems called “OpenStack” and the “Genomics Virtual Laboratory” to deliver a cloud-computing environment tailor-made for microbiologists.  Over the coming year, additional hardware and cloud-computing capacity will become available in Norwich, Birmingham and Cardiff.

Project director Professor Mark Pallen says “Running a cloud-computing system means that we can offer microbiologists across the country access to their own “Virtual Machines”, which come with a pre-installed operating system and commonly used software. This means that we take away a lot of the hassle in setting things up and allow users to get stuck straight in to their analyses. Also, by creating a virtual environment, we ensure that users cannot break anything so we grant them high-level access to the operating system which means they can install their own software.”

CLIMB-BIG-DATA is designed to provide a dynamic bioinformatics platform to allow microbiologists in academic research, government agencies and the health service address strategic challenges, such as emerging infectious diseases (for example COVID-19), antimicrobial resistance and foodborne and hospital-acquired pathogens.

An associated community engagement programme will include bioinformatics training, hackathons and research symposia. One of the key features of the initiative is to build a bridge between academic research and clinical applications, drawing together staff from universities, research institutes and front-line government agencies such as Public Health England and Public Health Wales in a sense of common endeavour.

The CLIMB-BIG-DATA infrastructure is already being used by UK research teams to analyse COVID-19 genomes and will provide support to the COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) Consortium. It provides a distributed research environment that allows relevant research and public health analyses to take place across the country with involvement of many centres, but within a stable and uniform computing environment.

More information can be found on the CLIMB web site:

Related Targets

Targeting the understanding of the microbiome

Understanding the Microbiome

Targeting food safety

Food Safety

Related Research Groups

Pallen group

Mark Pallen

Related Research Areas