Experts in bioinformatics from the Center for Algorithmic Biotechnology at St Petersburg University are the first Russian scientists to receive the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative grant for the development of the SPAdes and QUAST projects. This open-source software is already used by thousands of specialists in genomics all over the world.

lab lapidus

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is a charity foundation established by the founder of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan in 2015. The foundation goal is to help in solving some of society’s toughest challenges including eradicating disease and improving education. The grant received by the team of the Center for Algorithmic Biotechnology at St Petersburg University is aimed at supporting open-source software required for biomedical research.

The Center for Algorithmic Biotechnology was founded at St Petersburg University at the end of 2014 under the University mega-grant project to solve the essential computational tasks of modern biomedicine. The laboratory flagship product is SPAdes software tool (Saint Petersburg Assembler) used by thousands of specialists in the field of genomics all over the world. The software developed by St Petersburg University scientists recreates a complete primary structure of genomic DNA or, in other words, deciphers the genetic code.

QUAST (Quality Assessment Tool) is a software tool to assess the quality of genome assemblies. Since the tool can take several assemblies, it is also capable of comparing them. Thus, the two programmes follow the same genome project logic: data quality assessment – data collection – assembly quality assessment – scientific analysis. 

This is a unique grant with no analogues of the kind. It means that the software tool kit created by our laboratory has been recognised as important for global research. Few teams create nonprofit software of similar level and quality. In all modesty, this is the only brand in Russia used by tens of thousands of users all over the world. The most scrupulous experts have recognised both products of the brand as the leaders in the field.

Alla Lapidus, Associate Director of the Center for Algorithmic Biotechnology at the Institute of Translational Biomedicine at St Petersburg University.

According to Alla Lapidus, it is not enough to create a good product. It requires proper technical maintenance, which is a large-scale and costly work performed by highly qualified professionals.  ‘SPAdes and QUAST are open-source software tools and the companies are not interested in supporting them financially. ‘The value of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is that when distributing grants, it takes into account not only the scientific component, but also the demand in the costly “non-scientific” component that serves as the foundation for research,’ comments Alla Lapidus.