BioCatalogue: a curated catalogue of Web Services for the life sciences

by Franck Tanoh, OMII-UK


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Estimates place the number of life sciences Web Services at over 6000. With so many Web Services available, many life scientists find it difficult to locate the services that would be useful in their research. Hence, the launch this June of the BioCatalogue.

The BioCatalogue allows life scientists to easily locate Web Services of interest, and keep track of any changes that may occur over the lifetime of the Web Service. This will significantly accelerate the work of scientists in fields such as medicine, agronomy and pharmacology. The BioCatalogue will also enable a wider adoption of Web Services, which have become crucial for the integration of data resources and tools in the life sciences.

Web Services are critical to the effective linking of biological data and computing resources, because they enable complex querying, computing and analysis to be performed on biological data. This use of Web Services has been identified by a number of organisations, including the EBI (European Bioinformatics Institute), the NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information) and the DDBJ (DNA Data Bank of Japan). All of these organisations now provide Web Services to access and analyse their resources.

Web Services may be a critical resource, but they are not without their drawbacks. They can be difficult to locate, poorly described and poorly documented. This lack of information, especially that concerning the quality of the Web Service, impedes the wider adoption of Web Services within the life science community.

The BioCatalogue will help scientists to locate, register or annotate Web Services. BioCatalogue also helps scientists understand how to use the Web Service, and directs him or her to useful information, such as licences and restrictions. Web Services are submitted to the BioCatalogue and curated by service providers, the community and expert curators. Users of the catalogue can add information about the Web Services they have used by providing feedback or comments, or they can identify them for use by others by tagging them, marking them as favourite, or sharing them.

The BioCatalogue is a Ruby on Rail application and follows the web 2.0 principles of perpetual beta, constant iteration, constant feedback and constant improvement. The BioCatalogue project leverages some of its socio-technical elements from the successful myExperiment project.

The BioCatalogue automatically sources services and annotations from existing registries, such as BioMoby, seekda, feta, programmableweb and Embrace. In time, it will merge with the Embrace registry, which was built as the precursor to the BioCatalogue. The functionalities of the catalogue can easily be incorporated into other applications through the BioCatalogue API.

The BioCatalogue is more than just a registry. It is a collaborative environment where the community can meet and contact the experts that develop and use Web Services. Carole Goble, one of the leaders of the BioCatalogue project, describes it as a ‘social gathering point for crowd-sourced information about the services.’ With over 1070 Web Services and more than 100 users recorded in the two months since it came online, it appears that the BioCatalogue is already drawing the crowds.

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