Morris Swertz, PhD
Genomics Coordination Centre, University Medical Centre Groningen / University of Groningen
"We start every day with a 'scrum', a short update on what we are doing, what we have done and where we see potential problems."
1. What is the leading research theme in your group?
"We really are a hands-on group, about half of us work on large-scale calculations and here the key is to deal with the ever-increasing datastreams. To quote Gert-Jan van Ommen, we are learning to drink from a fire hose. How do we collect, store, filter and process all this data? The other half concentrate on making data accessible for the research community, for example by collecting datasets that physicians and researchers have stored on their own computers and bringing it all together in a database. Making data accessible also includes developing smart search algorithms or new visualization tools."
2. With what type of groups or organisations do you collaborate most and why?
"We have three types of collaborations. The first concerns collaborations with biology or medical groups towards a bioinformatics solution to answer a specific research question. The second relates to our involvement in large-scale projects such as the Genome of the Netherlands, where we work closely together with what I would call colleagues, Dutch groups that are similar to ours. The third type collaboration is related to international data exchange and infrastructure initiatives. We participate for example in several EU projects, like the EU-Gen2Phen project, EU-Bioshare en BBMRI-EU. The key here is to harmonize all our efforts as much as possible and to work out common standards to promote data exchange and integration."
3. From your research perspective, what are the main challenges in bioinformatics right now?
"To me, a major question is how to ensure that scientific results are disseminated in a transparent manner. Publishing analysis results is one thing, but to really assess the quality of those results you need insight into the protocols used. And the larger the datasets get, the more difficult it becomes to retrieve how the data was processed and analysed. We need tools that can retrieve those protocols. We also need to be more open on our results and find ways to publish 'negative' results as well. This is largely a 'social engineering' challenge. You need to get to know and trust each other to really work together and come to a communal and feasible solution."
4. What is the most important task of a group leader?
"Apart from taking good care of practical issues like funding and establishing partnerships, I think it is about creating coherence between everyone's activities. We start every day with a 'scrum', a short update on what we are doing, what we have done and where we see potential problems. The dynamics of this field make that you cannot plan too far ahead, you need to work in little steps and be right on top of things to allow quick adjustment and ensure your work is still in line with the needs of the end-user."
5. How would you describe the atmosphere in your group?
"It's like a beehive: busy, close and with a real team spirit."