NIH scaling back on model organism database funding: what you can do

TL;DR: NIH are scaling back funding on model organism databases, which will degrade annotation quality.  This can have far-reaching implications in many aspects of biology and computational biology. There’s a letter you can sign electronically, please do.  <> I am hoping to write a more detailed post on why this is important, but for the meantime, read the letter below. Funding cuts to model organism databases will have a rippling impact on biomedical research.


Dear Colleague,

I am writing to alert you to an important issue concerning the future of the Genome Ontology Consortium (GOC), but also all of the model organism databases (MODs).  The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), which funds several of the MODs and the Gene Ontology (GO) Consortium, has announced there will be decreased funding for these resources over the next few years.  A news article was published in Nature on Tuesday that reports on these changes, <>.  A similar article was previously published in Science <>.  NHGRI has stated the funding for the yeast, worm, fly, zebrafish, and mouse MODs, plus the GO Consortium, will be decreased by 30% over the next few years.

The NHGRI has recently put forth a requirement that the GOC and MODs work more closely together with the aim of reducing infrastructure costs.  The initial requirement is to create a shared web platform and data management system, and to use common tools and software.  While this sharing has begun, the situation regarding long-term support of biomedical resources, and GOC in particular, is unclear.  Current funding is down from previous years, and NHGRI’s plan is to continue this decrease with each subsequent year.

A group of leaders from the model organism research community has prepared a letter to NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins.  In the letter, they strongly advocate for the maintenance of shared tools and infrastructure, but also stress the importance of the continued existence of independent community-focused resources.  A prominent assemblage of signatories, including Nobel laureates, heads of scientific societies, and National Academy members have already endorsed this initiative.  We hope to gather thousands of additional signatures and present the letter to Dr. Collins at The Allied Genome Conference (TAGC) in Orlando in mid-July. The letter can be easily signed on the website created by our partners at the Genetics Society of America (GSA), with your name and just two short questions about your location.  These questions simply allow us to collate signatory numbers should NIH request a breakdown along these lines.

The Genetics Society of America website where the letter can be viewed and signed is at <>

Your signature on the letter is telling the NIH that researchers need resources for their daily professional activities.  Biomedical researchers use the GO website, tools, and expertly integrated information to be more productive in the design and analysis of their experimental work.  Resources that curate literature provide a service that saves students, teachers, and researchers countless hours of tracing down information — hours that can be better spent doing the actual research.  Simply said, biomedical resources aid the research conducted by the billions of dollars spent by NIH and others.  We can use this letter to make the point to funding agencies around the world that biomedical resources need their active support.

I urge you to forward this email to the trainees in your lab, as we aim to collect signatures from all GO and MOD users who concur (for the question about NIH support, we can consider those who work in an NIH-funded lab to be NIH-supported). Finally, we encourage you to spread the word through your colleagues and via social media. We have every hope that a strong show of support, via an outpouring of signatures, will help shape the NIH plan to preserve the GO and MOD features that are most important to our collective research enterprise.


Paul Thomas
University of Southern California

Judith Blake
Jackson Laboratory

Suzanna Lewis
University of California at Berkeley

Paul Sternberg
California Institute of Technology

J. Michael Cherry
Stanford University

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