Systems integration capabilities boost uptake of bioinformatics

The complexities of using different formats is apparent whenever a researcher attempts to access data from the over 800 databases on the web and this reinforces the need for standard data formats and interfaces.

“The key is to design user interfaces that are intuitive, easy to use and powerful,” says Technical Insights Research Analyst Katherine Austin. “For example, a proteomics researcher should be able to cross-reference and study sequence databases, gene-expression data and structural data for a particular protein in one sitting.”
Once data is accessible from multiple sources, researchers will be able to build cohesive networks from separate databases, share data and supplement each other’s results far more easily.

There is also an urgent need for tools that offer the benefits that the web did for information searches. This could mean combining independent applications onto one standardised interface or designing a single package that provides cross-database search and analysis.

While the current trend in the genome analysis arena, for instance, is to use a basic set of shared tools, the future requires value-added applications that can move from task to task and stage to stage, as a particular research project progresses.

“The difficulty is defining the applications that will be most useful to researchers in the future and which data standards and operating systems will prevail and thus should be supported,” explains Dr Austin.

Integration projects such as BioMOBY, funded by Genome Canada, and myGrid, funded by the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council provide systems that enable scientists to browse, identify and access multiple bioinformatics services including databases.

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