The exponential growth of diverse types of biological data presents the research community with an unprecedented challenge to keep the flood of biological data as accessible, up-to-date, and integrated as possible. But it also presents an unprecedented opportunity to cultivate new models of data curation and exchange by engaging the direct participation of the community.
In a new article, Alexander R. Pico and his colleagues describe their efforts to embrace that opportunity and meet the challenge of collecting and curating vast amounts of biological information on cellular pathways.
Pathways are critical to understanding the functions of individual genes and proteins in the context of the systems and processes that contribute both to normal physiology and to disease. Each biological pathway must be constructed from a mass of biological information distributed across multiple publications and databases.
The researchers argue that their resource, WikiPathways, which combines a wiki-based pathway curation resource with an embedded graphical pathway editing tool, can meet the growing challenge presented by the influx of biological data, and provides an innovative example of content curation by the biology community. The new resource, which allows users to view, store, and edit biological pathway information, is completely free and open source.
Curating and archiving information on biological pathways present a special challenge because pathways comprise a myriad of interactions, reactions, and regulations, which are often identified piecemeal over extended periods and by a variety of researchers. Efforts to take on this challenge have typically relied on small groups of paid curators. Given the "Herculean task" of curating "all of biology," the researchers established WikiPathways to draw on the collective expertise of the scientific community to facilitate content collection and curation.
Just as Wikipedia and other innovative creative support tools have changed how we access, collect and manage information, WikiPathways presents a new, collaborative model for thinking about biological pathway information, they argue. The resource attempts to harness the power of the community to not only organize and maintain the vast amounts of biological data but also to maximize its value by providing the community with a wealth of annotated information.
"WikiPathways will be a powerful resource for the research community and a vital forum for pathway curation," the authors argue. "And we are hopeful that it will serve as an example for how the continuing flood of biological data can be managed and utilized by the community to irrigate future hypotheses and discoveries."
- Pico et al. WikiPathways: Pathway Editing for the People. PLoS Biology, 2008; 6 (7): e184 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.0060184
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