The BioCommons Pathfinder Project

Dr Rhys Francis1, BioCommons Pathfinder Project Participants2, Australian BioCommons Team3

1Australian BioCommons,, Australia, 2BioCommons Pathfinder Project,, Australia, 3Australian BioCommons Team,, Australia


Bioplatforms Australia has initiated the Australian BioCommons to address the rapid advances in digital technologies and methods that are transforming lifesciences.

As a precursor, BioPlatforms Australia, the Australian Research Data Commons and AARNet established the BioCommons Pathfinder Project in 2018, involving a commitment of $2.5M. Pawsey and NCI joined donating time and facility resources, creating a concerted national infrastructure effort to better characterise future life science solutions.

Five Implementation Studies were developed around unknowns confronting the planning and development of the BioCommons. Each relates to a key long term challenge:

  • Human genome archiving and the fundamental requirement for sensitive data retention and access
  • Interoperability with global data using pediatric cancer as an exemplar
  • Non-model Genome Assembly & Annotation using OzMammals and OzPlants as exemplars
  • Improvements to researchers ability to analyse their data using phylogenetics as an exemplar, and integrating instruments and CloudStor as a data mover with the Galaxy research workflow system
  • Investigating approaches to compute and storage access that align with life science research practice

Progress with the Implementation Studies confirm the challenges that life science infrastructures confront, including:

  • Data growth continues, exceeding constant cost technology growth rates
  • Lifescience applies computing differently to established HPC practice and culture
  • Australian data must be interpreted in a global context where data is too big to move or copy
  • Infrastructure compatibility will be vital as more of the required software will be globally developed
  • A ‘cloud native’ paradigm dominating international infrastructure investment will apply here

The talk will address the implications.


Rhys was an academic researcher in parallel and distributed computing through the 1980s. Then, from 1990 through to 2005 his roles morphed from senior principle researcher, through research programme management and into strategic leadership in information and communication technologies for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). From 2006 Rhys facilitated the development of a national investment plan in eResearch infrastructure for the Australian Government’s National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy. As the Executive Director of the following implementation process, the Australian eResearch Infrastructure Council, he shaped the foundations of the national e-infrastructure landscape visible today. Over the last five years he has continued to work to harness advancing information and communication technologies to the benefit of Australian research. Today Rhys is part of the team developing the Australian BioCommons, an investment accelerating the delivery of digital technology driven benefits for Australian life science research.



AeRO is the industry association focused on eResearch in Australasia. We play a critical coordination role for our members, who are actively transforming research via Information Technology. Organisations join AeRO to advance their own capabilities and services, to collaborate and to network with peers. AeRO believes researchers and the sector significantly benefit from greater communication, coordination and sharing among the increasingly different and evolving service providers.