Rewriting Life

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.

This story is part of our April 2001 Issue
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe

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

Tech Obsessive?
Become an Insider to get the story behind the story — and before anyone else.

Subscribe today

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Rewriting Life

Reprogramming our bodies to make us healthier.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Premium.
  • Insider Premium {! insider.prices.premium !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Our award winning magazine, unlimited access to our story archive, special discounts to MIT Technology Review Events, and exclusive content.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

    First Look. Exclusive early access to stories.

    Insider Conversations. Listen in as our editors talk to innovators from around the world.

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.