Reflections on the bad news from KEGG

It was with great sadness that we have read about the end of funding for the KEGG database. KEGG is one of the most important Bioinformatics resources world-wide, and the first port of call for many scientists looking for information on metabolic pathways. We use KEGG in our work on bacterial luminescence, and have plans to use KEGG further in our work on pathogenic E. coli strains. It is, of course, to Kanehisa Sensei‘s great credit that he has produced and sustained this database, and we wish him all the best in his forthcoming retirement.

KEGG has become a resource of global importance. After the Tsunami and disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant, we can understand that Japanese funding priorities have to go elsewhere. But the demise of funding for KEGG is a lesson to both academics and funders about the role of short term as opposed to perpetual funding for internationally important resources. The NCBI and EBI are both fortunate in receiving perpetual funding from the US and EU respectively, and this is the best way to ensure continuity of important bioinformatics resources. KEGG was funded by a succession of short-term grants, and so was susceptible to funding changes, and the retirement of its PI. The lesson is clear: once a resource becomes sufficiently important (and what that means may be a subject of some debate), academics, funding bodies and major institutions need to find ways of working together to ensure that that resource can be moved under the umbrella of securely funded institutions so that the resource can be maintained.

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