"The interests of our users are paramount", stated Rolf Backofen. "It is our aim to enable them to use powerful computers with the help of a simple-to-use online platform, so that they can analyze their data independently." The team gives researchers access not only to the mainframe, they also provide advice and workshops - all free of charge and on an open-source basis.
At the University of Freiburg, the focus is on the Galaxy Project, which arose as part of the collaborative research centre "Medical Epigenetics". It was originally an online platform developed at Penn State University in the US, giving researchers the use of high-performance computing for their work. "The researchers upload their data and can then apply various analysis tools to it, or combine them, alter the parameters, change the data into the necessary format, and much more - all on one platform", Rolf Backofen explained. The ease of use is a major plus: Instead of developing programmes as is usual in informatics, users can adjust all the settings for data analysis easily via a graphic control panel in their web browser.
Current methods for examining cell functions, for example in genomic research, produce vast data sets. Bioinformatics provides the toolkit with which researchers can process this data. RNA bioinformatics is one important focus of this research in Freiburg. Research in recent years has shown that ribonucleic acid or RNA plays a bigger role than previously thought: Along with the task of translating genetic information into proteins, RNA participates in all the cell's key processes. The University of Freiburg's RNA Bioinformatics Center is one of eight such facilities in the German Network for Bioinformatics Infrastructure (de.NBI), which is sponsored by the German Education and Research Ministry. Rolf Backofen and his team are working with the University's IT centre in the project: That is where the high-performance computer NEMO is; and it has received a special bioinformatics-oriented extension with recent funding.
Since August 2016 the German Network for Bioinformatics Infrastructure overall has become a hub for the European Network for Bioinformatics Infrastructure ELIXIR. Rolf Backofen is one of its leading coordinators. Now Freiburg researchers are able to provide their service across Europe.
Rolf Backofen is a member of the collaborative research centres "Medical Epigenetics" and "Development, function and potential of myeloid cells in the central nervous system" as well as an associated member of the Freiburg excellence cluster, BIOSS Center for Biological Signalling Studies.