Work has been underway on Germany’s national research data infrastructure – known by the German abbreviation NFDI – since 2018. The goal is to systematically open up and link up valuable data resources from the realms of science and research. This will make them more easily accessible to Germany’ entire system of scientific research and academia. The NFDI will create a robust and flexible digital knowledge repository for all fields of research, providing an indispensable basis for new research topics, findings and innovations.
The goal of the NFDI initiative is to establish a sustainable, systematic and high-quality system for preserving and indexing research data and to make it accessible through regional and networked knowledge repositories. Plans are also underway to set up a research data management system based on the FAIR principles and to connect and network this with international initiatives such as the European Open Science Cloud.
As part of this science-led initiative, the German Research Foundation (DFG) is providing funding for up to 30 consortia to meet its goal of covering a broad range of scientific disciplines. What makes these consortia so unique is the close cooperation between Germany’s science and research infrastructure and the scientific community – a key principle that lies at the heart of NFDI development.
ZB MED’s role in the NFDI
As Germany’s infrastructure and research hub for life sciences information and data, ZB MED has an essential role to play in developing the NFDI. Back in 2018, ZB MED took charge of setting up and coordinating the NFDI4Life umbrella organisation, which encompasses a number of consortia from various life science domains including biodiversity, health and medicine, agricultural sciences and microbiome research. This illustrates how ZB MED has been a driving force behind the national research data infrastructure right from the start. ZB MED is also an official member of the NFDI e.V. organisation.
ZB MED is involved in multiple individual consortia dedicated to specific subject areas:
- NFDI4Health – National research data infrastructure for personal health data
- NFDI4Microbiota – National research data infrastructure for research of microbiota
- NFDI4Data Science – National research data infrastructure for data science and artificial intelligence
- FAIRagro – National research data infrastructure for agrosystem research
In addition, ZB MED will also be working on the development of interdisciplinary basic services in the Base4NFDI consortium from 2023.
NFDI4Health began operating back in October 2020 following a successful evaluation and approval process. It is led and coordinated by Professor Juliane Fluck, giving ZB MED a leading role in this consortium as well as significant involvement in its activities. Professor Fluck is supported by Professor Iris Pigeot, Director of the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology - BIPS. ZB MED’s work in the NFDI4Health consortium includes developing the technical infrastructure (with a particular emphasis on a search portal for health data), managing research data, drawing up guidelines for data publishing, and providing training and development activities in the field of data stewardship.
The NFDI4Microbiota consortium consists of ten co-applicant institutions and includes over 50 participants from the microbiology research community. This consortium is another example of ZB MED taking on a leading role. The spokespersons are Prof. Dr. Konrad Förstner from ZB MED and Prof. Dr. Alice McHardy from the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research. ZB MED is the official applicant institution. The consortium participated in the second round of the NFDI call for proposals in 2020. Following a positive expert opinion, the Joint Science Conference (GWK) made the decision to fund the consortium in July 2021.
NFDI4DataScience aims to establish a community-driven research data infrastructure for Data Science and Artificial Intelligence. This consortium is led by the Fraunhofer Institute for Open Communication Systems (FOKUS). As one of a total of 15 co-applicants in the consortium, ZB MED is responsible for setting up the infrastructure required to search for, publish and archive software, model calculations and similar resources. It is also assisting with the creation of a knowledge graph. NFDI4DataScience also participated in the second round of the NFDI call for proposals, was given a positive evaluation and will receive funding from 2021.
The funding application for FAIRagro is coordinated by the Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF). ZB MED is one of a total of eleven co-applicants in the consortium. Key objectives include developing standards for data publishing and interoperability based on FAIR data principles as well as developing services – in particular a search portal – and running training and development activities within the expert community. FAIRagro was successful in the third funding round and has started work in March 2023.
Base4NFDI develops basic services for the entire German science and research community. Unlike other NFDI consortia, Base4NFDI does not focus on a specific set of technical or methodological skills and competencies. Instead, it strives to create a portfolio of interdisciplinary services that will benefit all the NFDI consortia. As part of this overarching mission, it supports access to and exploitation of research data across all scientific disciplines and areas of research. Building on the various consortia’s existing solutions, it creates ‘basic services’ that seek to provide greater interoperability and efficiency in the field of research data management.
Making connections is key to success
ZB MED’s success in the realm of NFDI stems from its ability to combine the skills of multiple in-house teams and departments. The research groups led by Professor Rebholz-Schuhmann, Professor Juliane Fluck and Professor Konrad Förstner work hand in hand with the research data management and knowledge management teams in the life sciences liaison and support department.