The Origins of ANGIS

In mid-April 1990, Sydney University’s Professor of Electrical Engineering Trevor Cole, known for his interest in interdisciplinary projects, was approached by Alex Reisner, then a visiting scholar in the department — would Cole be interested in supporting a nationally accessible service of databases and analytical software to assist Australian molecular biologists and biotechnologists? Cole spoke to Peter Reeves, Head of Microbiology, who supported the suggestion, and on May 1st, Reeves called together representatives of six university biomedical departments. Each offered to put up $2,000 of seed funding with the understanding that a functional service must be up and running by July 1. Cole provided space and a computer server, Reeves served as faculty advisor and overseer, Reisner fronted the project, and Alec Dunn, Electrical Engineering’s Systems Manager, together with Carolyn Bucholtz, an expert in molecular biological databases and specialist programmer, volunteered their own time to set up the Sydney University Sequence Analysis Interface (SUSAI). As stipulated, on July 1, 1990, the “stakeholders” witnessed a demonstration of the service, and within a few weeks, it was made available to outside users.

The University then submitted DITAC for SUSAI to be considered for the National Genomic Information Service (NGIS), in which it emphasised that in addition to providing the service per se, it would undertake to provide lectures and practical teaching to facilitate its appropriate use. After an extensive assessment process, the Expert Group set up by DITAC to advise on the matter recommended in December 1990 that the Sydney consortium be given the resources to establish NGIS.

The report also recommended that NGIS be fully operational by July 1991. However, that timetable couldn’t be followed, and it was only in June 1991 that DITAC could write to the University with a statement on commitments to funding such that the University could even move to establish the Centre. During the intervening period, there were meetings with funding bodies chaired by DITAC, which also acted as an Interim Board. In this period, SUN Computers donated a Computer to the Service and small grants were obtained for other purposes.

After discussion between the University and DITAC, an agreed Constitution for the Centre was drawn up and on August 5th 1991, The University Senate established the Australian Genomic Information Centre, with the responsibility for managing the Australian National Genomic Information Service (ANGIS).