In the intricate web of scientific exploration, one thread stands out for its profound influence on clinical research and public health: bioinformatics. The week-long 27th International Bioinformatics & Virus Evolution & Molecular Epidemiology (VEME) Workshop, hosted by the Centre for Epidemic Response & Innovation (CERI) at Stellenbosch University from August 20th to 25th, recently concluded, leaving a trail of insights and inspiration. This workshop showcased the symbiosis between experts and enthusiasts, forging a path into the realm of molecular data analysis and its practical implications.
VEME, a pioneering workshop series, has long been a vanguard of cutting-edge bioinformatics training. In an era where data reigns supreme, VEME tackled the dire need for specialized knowledge. The event brought together eminent researchers from across the globe, united by the common goal of bridging theoretical concepts with real-world application. With their expertise, they illuminated the path for future bioinformatics maestros.
As the closing remarks of the event, Professor Anne-Mieke Vandamme, one of the organizers, eloquently summarized the main pillars of VEME's purpose. She stated, "The VEME workshop has three main pillars: to bring people together, to provide methodology and training, and to empower participants to produce tangible results." These pillars encapsulate the essence of VEME, emphasizing collaboration, skill-building, and impactful outcomes.
At the heart of VEME27's triumph lay its commitment to building capacity. In today's landscape, where torrents of genomic data flow ceaselessly, the ability to harness this wealth is revolutionary. The workshop's structure revolved around four key modules: Phylogeny Inference, Evolutionary Hypothesis Testing, Next Generation Sequencing, and From Trees to Public Health Policy.
Professor Tulio de Oliveira, another organizer, captured the essence of the workshop's impact in a tweet: "Building expertise to quickly respond to epidemics." This sentiment resonated throughout the event, as participants engaged in a half-day module on developing genomic surveillance dashboards. The enthusiasm and interest were palpable, reflecting the shared commitment to rapid epidemic response.
The 2023 VEME transcended borders, uniting 158 eager minds from 39 countries. Through immersive hands-on experiences across the workshop's modules, participants engaged with genomics analysis under the mentorship of 44 top-tier experts. One of the teachers, from the Rockefeller Foundation & Indiana University, USA, reflected on the event, tweeting, "That's a wrap on #VEME2023! Great to catch up with colleagues from across the globe....' Can't wait for next year in #Seattle #VEME2024."
Beyond the remarkable statistics, VEME has been hosted in 18 different countries across its 27 editions. It is an integral part of a broader African Genomics Capacity Building Program, further underscoring its significance in bolstering scientific expertise on the continent.
The workshop's impact extended beyond its core activities. A public lecture, hosted as part of the event, drew more than 300 attendees. World-leading experts, Professors Edward Holmes and Marion Koopman, delivered insights that resonated far and wide. Edward C. Holmes, a Professor of Virology at the University of Sydney, Australia, is renowned for his research on the evolution and spread of infectious diseases. Marion Koopmans, a virologist and Professor at Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, Netherlands, is recognized for her work in emerging infectious diseases, particularly zoonotic viruses with the potential to jump from animals to humans.
As the curtains fall on #VEME2023, the legacy of collaboration, shared knowledge, and unwavering dedication prevails. For those captivated by the confluence of bioinformatics, virus evolution, and molecular epidemiology, VEME stands as a beacon of opportunity. Its reverberations are set to shape research, public health, and the scientific landscape for years to come.