Ewan Birney, 29
European Bioinformatics Institute
Think of the human genome as Tolstoy’s War and Peace in the original Russian—immense, exciting, but for most, indecipherable. British bioinformatician Ewan Birney wants to make the genome’s information accessible to all. His Ensembl software and data allow researchers to find information on the Web on any known or predicted gene and to automatically match pieces of genes they have sequenced with other genes—without tediously combing through endless raw-sequence data. Cofounded by Birney, the Ensembl project has become one of the most popular resources for genome research, and its software is freely available to use and modify. With his related work adapting programming languages such as Perl and Java to biological projects, Birney has become a force in the bioinformatics open-source community. “In bioinformatics” he says, “the software is actually not that important. What’s much more important is the data.” Birney’s ambitious tools will help researchers deliver on the promise of new drugs and treatments derived from the Human Genome Project.