Collaborators from more than 30 scientific organisations around the world, including the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, have agreed on a common standard for integrating biological data sets.

The data-sharing effort, led by researchers at the University of Oxford and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute at Harvard University, will make possible the consistent description of enormous and radically different databases compiled in the biosciences in fields ranging from genetics to stem cell science, to environmental studies.

The new standard provides a way for scientists in widely disparate fields to coordinate each other’s findings by allowing behind-the-scenes combination of the mountains of data produced by modern, technology-driven science.

This standard-compliant data sharing effort and the establishment of its online presence, the ISA Commons, is described in a commentary signed by all the collaborators published this week in the journal Nature Genetics.

It was necessary to establish common data standards, say the commentary’s authors, because of the tsunami of data and technologies washing over the sciences. “There are hundreds of new technologies coming along but also many ways to describe the information produced.” said Dr Susanna-Assunta Sansone, Team Leader of the project at the University of Oxford’s Oxford e-Research Centre. She added, "We can take a jigsaw puzzle of different sciences and now fit the many pieces together to form a complete picture."

Professor Dawn Field, Head of the Molecular Evolution and Bioinformatics group at CEH and Director of the NERC Environmental Bioinformatics Centre (NEBC) and the NERC Biomolecular Analysis Facility bioinformatics node, was one of the commentary's three CEH co-authors. She said, "The ISA system is the ideal solution for managing experimental metadata from diverse groups and is now a core solution at the NERC Environmental Bioinformatics Centre. We look forward in the future to being able to exchange data with other ISA-compliant project."

Related information

Sansone, S-A. et al. Toward interoperable bioscience data. Nature Genetics 44, 2 (2012). ISA Commons

NERC Environmental Bioinformatics Centre 

NERC Biomolecular Analysis Facility - Wallingford




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