Barcelona, 21 October, 2022.- There are many scientific challenges that exceed the possibilities of an individual laboratory, a single country or even a continent. Until the Human Genome Project (HGP), biology had always been a discipline of individual achievements. The HGP marked a key departure from an individualistic to a more collaborative approach, involving 20 institutes from 6 countries. Since then, further large consortium projects in biology have been initiated. The cost of sequencing DNA has decreased dramatically over the last decade and consequently the ambition of consortia to generate even larger datasets has increased. In addition, existing datasets are being combined in new studies to answer more complex questions.


In an article published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology researchers at the Centro Nacional de Análisis Genómico (CNAG-CRG) and the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona), look back at consortia related to analysing omics data in which they have participated to see what can be learnt from this experience. One consortium in particular in which they gained a lot of experience with a large international effort in the field of big omics was the ICGC/TCGA PanCancer Analysis of Whole Genomes (PCAWG) project. This has been one of the largest biological projects aimed at getting the most out of combining existing datasets, jointly analysing nearly 2,700 cancer genomes. More than 1,300 scientists were involved from 37 different countries.


The paper summarises the researchers experience into 10 rules that serve as guidelines for future consortia dealing with large dataset and analyses, particularly when operating without central funding.


“We do not look back enough and looking back is essential to plan the future. We need to evaluate past experiences and learn from our mistakes but also from our accomplishments. Writing these ten rules we analysed what could have gone better in previous projects and we believe that our conclusions will help current and especially the next generation of scientists in their future endeavours,” says Miranda Stobbe, postdoctoral fellow at CNAG-CRG and first author of the paper.


Work of reference

Ten simple rules for a successful international consortium in big data omics