Skip to Content

Gene Babel

Biotech

Small DNA-laden wafers have transformed biology. Using these DNA chips, geneticists can see which genes are turned on, or expressed, in a cell at a particular time. Such gene expression experiments allow bioscientists to diagnose different diseases, quickly screen thousands of drug candidates for efficacy and safety and even learn the functions of newly discovered genes.

Sharing this information over the Web could lead to an explosion in biological knowledge. But each experiment generates gigabytes of data written in one of several formats, depending on the type of chip used. And with dozens of chips on the market and hundreds of ways to analyze the data, the Web is in danger of becoming a genetic Tower of Babel.

Companies and academics have begun creating uniform formats for representing gene expression data, designed to work on any computer (see table below). Overseeing the effort to fashion a single standard from these proliferating formats is the Object Management Group, an international nonprofit consortium that has helped the computer industry establish software standards for over a decade. A life sciences subgroup formed in 1997, and standards for protein and DNA sequence analysis followed. Next in line: molecular and chemical structure representations and drug trial data, as well as gene expression data.

Participants hope that a gene expression standard will emerge by year’s end. If it does, the enormous amount of data produced in the wake of the Human Genome Project could find a common language on the Web.

Gene Standards Projects

Group Project Purpose
Rosetta Inpharmatics Gene Expression Markup Language Data representation

European Bioinformatics Institute/Microarray Gene Expression Database Group Microarray Markup Language Data representation

National Center for Genome Research GeneX/GeneXML Database/data representation

NetGenics Standard interface for gene-expression data warehousing Data management and analysis

Keep Reading

Most Popular

AGI is just chatter for now concept
AGI is just chatter for now concept

The hype around DeepMind’s new AI model misses what’s actually cool about it

Some worry that the chatter about these tools is doing the whole field a disservice.

Workers disinfect the street outside Shijiazhuang Railway Station
Workers disinfect the street outside Shijiazhuang Railway Station

Why China is still obsessed with disinfecting everything

Most public health bodies dealing with covid have long since moved on from the idea of surface transmission. China’s didn’t—and that helps it control the narrative about the disease’s origins and danger.

Europe's AI Act concept
Europe's AI Act concept

A quick guide to the most important AI law you’ve never heard of

The European Union is planning new legislation aimed at curbing the worst harms associated with artificial intelligence.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.