Workshop on data-driven innovation in March
From databases with genetic data, statistical relations between genes and the characteristics of plants or animals to classic literature files; over the years, international scientists have composed a virtually infinite collection of information.
“The ability to link all these existing collections may show that new research is not always necessary for further innovations,” says Richard Finkers, bio-informatics scientist at Wageningen UR. At the workshop Data-driven innovations in the agri-food industries on 18 and 19 March in Wageningen, Finkers and his colleagues hope to show how small and medium-sized companies can develop innovations based on already available data.
Knowing what we know now
The current political trend of seeing the concept of ‘knowing what we know now’ has become a weak excuse of sorts (in the sense of ‘If we had known then what we know now...’). To scientist Finkers the concept still has a positive meaning. “It’s important to see how rich our current knowledge is,” he explains. “Scientists at the Leiden University Medical Centre recently underlined this fact in a publication in Nature Genetics magazine. They looked at the literature that was available at least one year before 20 breakthroughs in the relationship between genes and disease. Their study showed that the majority of the ‘new discoveries’ had, in fact, already been present in the available literature... If people had only known where and how to look.”
According to Finkers, the major problem in analysing so-called ‘big data’ is in the communication between the various databases. “The connections between databases would improve if we were to standardise the collated information. This is something we are working on in national and international networks such as DTL and ELIXIR. In addition to linking various types of research, it is also essential that scientists from various countries are willing and able to share their information. In the jargon of our research, we have to make the data as ‘FAIR’ as possible; it must be Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Re-useable. Incidentally, this does not mean that protected information would end up on the street. Another benefit is that companies can analyse their own data internally in the context of other data once their own information has become ‘fair’.”
During the DTL/ELIXIR workshop at Wageningen Campus in March, Finkers and his colleagues aim to show companies from the agri-food industry the potential of data-driven innovation. “We are focusing on plant and animal breeders alike, as well as businesses in the food industry. How can they identify a gene that is responsible for, say, the fat composition of milk? Or how can they find a gene that provides resistance against a specific disease in tomato plants? And to take things one step further: how can they immediately link the gene to a relevant seed in the gene bank? The workshop will stimulate contacts between scientists and businesses in order to show them what academic organisations and companies are already doing in this field, and, more importantly, what they can mean to each other.”