EMBL's European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) is expanding its remit to include bioimaging data. Through its new, dedicated resource for biological images, called the BioImage Archive, EMBL-EBI aims to make it easier for researchers around the world to store, share, access and analyse biological images. Easy access to bioimaging data could offer new insights into how life works at a molecular level and could advance knowledge in fields such as human health and disease, food security and biodiversity.
Developments in microscopy and imaging technologies, such as cryogenic electron microscopy, volume electron microscopy and super-resolution light microscopy, are allowing life-science researchers to observe biological structures and processes in completely new ways. These new data types present many exciting opportunities but also several challenges, including:
- Sharing - access to and reuse of images is essential for biologists because it improves research quality and significantly speeds up scientific discovery
- Diversity - imaging is not a single technology, but an umbrella term for many different methods, scales and resolutions
- Analysis - any new type of data requires new analysis tools and methods that are easily accessible to the research community
EMBL-EBI has been collaborating with the wider bioimaging community to address some of these challenges. Pilot projects coordinated by EMBL-EBI, such as EMPIAR, and collaborations such as the Cell- and Tissue- Image Data Resource (IDR), have laid the groundwork for the creation of the BioImage Archive. The project has been made possible through capital support from a recent Strategic Priority Fund award from UK Research and Innovation.
"Imaging has huge potential for the life sciences, but only if the data can be shared and accessed easily by the global research community," explains Ewan Birney, Director of EMBL-EBI. "The BioImage Archive acts as a broker or an intermediary, facilitating the sharing of bioimages and connecting with other resources that add value to these data."
In the initial phase, the BioImage Archive will make available images from EMBL-EBI's EMPIAR and BioStudies resources, as well as IDR. In the future, other added-value resources will be connected to the BioImage Archive, enhancing the scientific value of the archived images through curation and the development of new analytical methods.
"EMBL-EBI's expertise in data coordination and its links to the wider imaging community make it ideally-placed to coordinate and support the creation of a centralised data resource for imaging data," says Melanie Welham, Executive Chair of BBSRC. "We are pleased to support this initiative and are looking forward to seeing it grow."
The BioImage Archive is part of a wider EMBL drive to improve access to imaging technology and data. EMBL is in the process of building a new Imaging Centre in Heidelberg, Germany, which will enable researchers to access the latest microscopy technologies.
"Imaging is revolutionising the life sciences, facilitating new and exciting discoveries," says Jan Ellenberg, Head of EMBL's Cell Biology and Biophysics Unit and Coordinator of Euro-BioImaging's Preparatory Phases I and II. "Image data archiving and sharing is a high priority for EMBL and for the wider European scientific community, so we welcome the creation of EMBL-EBI's BioImage Archive."
EMBL is also a founding member of Euro-BioImaging ERIC - the European Research Infrastructure for Imaging Technologies in Biological and Biomedical Sciences. Euro-BioImaging provides access to its imaging Nodes across Europe, enabling researchers to access state-of-the art imaging technologies. It also provides the link to the imaging communities in Europe and beyond, which will use EMBL-EBI's BioImage Archive to store and share their data. Euro-BioImaging ERIC is foreseen to be launched by its 14 member countries and EMBL in 2019.
One of the drivers for the BioImage Archive is a joint image data strategy concluded between Euro-BioImaging and ELIXIR. ELIXIR is a pan-European infrastructure for biological data, which includes EMBL-EBI as a leading Node.