An important feature of the ENDURE Network of Excellence is the creation of the Virtual Laboratory. It is a major undertaking and is set for its first public appearance in 2010. We caught up with Neal Evans (pictured right), leader of the team responsible for the Virtual Laboratory, from the Department of Plant and Invertebrate Ecology at Rothamsted Research in the UK, to find out more.
QUESTION: What is the Virtual Laboratory and why has it been created?
NEAL EVANS: The Virtual Labortatory (VL) is a dynamic entity developed within ENDURE to support its research activities and the continuity of the network. In one respect it is a repository, cataloguing resources that are available to ENDURE scientists from within the network, and yet it also allows scientists to exchange data and do research ‘online’. Technically, it is a cluster of MySQL databases with a PHP-driven web interface that is accessible via the internet. The VL also hosts research ‘platforms’, within which information on particular aspects of crop protection is collected, integrated and disseminated to the research community.
QUESTION: What information does it currently hold?
NEAL EVANS: The VL holds a very large amount of information relevant to rationalising and diversifying crop protection strategies across Europe. For example, the culture and collections section provides access to some 650,000-plus different samples of pests, seeds etc held by 16 ENDURE partners across 10 European countries. The best developed platform at present is ‘EUROwheat’, a unique mine of information on major wheat pathogens and their control. [Visit www.eurowheat.org to find out more.]
QUESTION: How is this useful to the ENDURE Network?
NEAL EVANS: By integrating information on resources and facilities of all ENDURE partners, the VL is a ‘hub’ of the ENDURE project. It embodies the commitment of partners to make the contents of the VL mutually available for crop protection research within and beyond the funding period of ENDURE. At present, the VL has proved of greater value to some research activities than others; this is a consequence of the short period it has been running and the time needed to development the database structures and underlying software.
QUESTION: What are the next steps?
NEAL EVANS: Immediate plans include the completion of two more platforms currently under development. ‘EUResist’ is being populated with information on the incidence, monitoring and management of the most serious cases of pesticide resistance in the European Union (EU). ‘QuantiPest’ will focus on tools and techniques for field experimentation and evaluation of Integrated Pest Management strategies.
QUESTION: What is the ultimate ambition for the Virtual Laboratory?
NEAL EVANS: There is no reason, in principle, why the VL can’t continue to increase in size and scope to become a single point of reference for scientists in the EU building new research projects, and seeking collaborators with complementary resources and expertise. This requires a major commitment of time and effort to continue to expand and update the contents. Our goal in the shorter-term is to leave a legacy that can be used for this purpose. As such, we have developed the VL to be as ‘self-sustainable’ as possible.
QUESTION: Will researchers from outside the network be able to use it?
NEAL EVANS: To serve its long-term purpose this is essential and the intention is that the information and tools in the VL will be publicly available from the start of 2010. It’s quite a resource and we hope it will be useful to scientists working in all areas of crop protection for many years to come.