Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


UF scientists encounter holes in tree of life, push for better data storage

When it comes to public access, the tree of life has holes.

A new study co-authored by University of Florida researchers shows about 70 percent of published genetic sequence comparisons are not publicly accessible, leaving researchers worldwide unable to get to critical data they may need to tackle a host a problems ranging from climate change to disease control.

Scientists are using the genetic data to construct the largest open-access tree of life as part of the National Science Foundation's $5.6-million Assembling, Visualizing and Analyzing the Tree of Life project. Understanding organismal relationships is increasingly valuable for tracking the origin and spread of emerging diseases, creating agricultural and pharmaceutical products, studying climate change, controlling invasive species and establishing plans for conservation and ecosystem restoration.

The study appearing today in PLoS Biology describes a significant challenge for the project, which is expected to produce an initial draft tree by the end of the year. It highlights the need for developing more effective methods for storing data for long-term use and urges journals to adopt more stringent data-sharing policies.

"I think what we need is a major change in our mindset about just how important it is to deposit your data – this has to be a standard part of what we do," said co-author Doug Soltis, a distinguished professor at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus and UF's biology department. "Because if it's not there, it's lost forever. These are really, really important for long-term use, as we're seeing now in our efforts to build a tree."

Estimates of the amount of missing data were based on 7,539 peer-reviewed studies about animals, fungi, seed plants, bacteria and various microscopic organisms. Soltis said the missing genetic data has required project collaborators to contact hundreds of researchers to request information, or attempt to reproduce the sequence alignments and analyses, which is extremely labor intensive.

"There are ambiguities with the alignments, you have to make certain judgment calls, and so an alignment that I do is not going to be the same as an alignment that somebody else does," said lead author Bryan Drew, a postdoctoral researcher in UF's biology department. "It's hard to assess a publication's validity in a lot of cases if you don't have access to the alignments. To me, that's the biggest problem with all of this."

Challenges include complicated mechanisms for uploading data and inconsistencies between journals – some require or strongly recommend data be stored in an online database and others do not, Drew said. The most widely used, publicly accessible databases include GenBank, TreeBASE and Dryad. Most journals require DNA sequences be deposited in GenBank, but comparatively few require the sequence alignments to be publicly archived. When study co-authors emailed researchers to obtain missing information, a majority did not respond, and the co-authors were rarely successful in retrieving the data.

"A lot of the authors I contacted said their data was in TreeBASE, but they were unaware of the next step needed after acceptance by the journal – the researchers didn't know they had to go back into TreeBASE and actually make the data available to the public," Drew said.

Elizabeth Kellogg, a professor in the department of biology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis who was not involved with the study, said she is not surprised about the large amount of missing information.

"They're absolutely right that when people are publishing papers, you want to document your results as much as you can," Kellogg said. "But many journals aren't requiring that extra step, so some researchers are only submitting the minimum to have their studies published. "There are databases for archiving, but some of their interfaces are somewhat cumbersome, and if you haven't previously done this, it can appear to be a daunting task."

Study co-authors include Romina Gazis and David Hibbett of Clark University, Patricia Cabezas of Brigham Young University, Kristen Swithers and Laura A. Katz of Smith College, Keith Crandall of George Washington University, and Jiabin Deng and Roseanna Rodriguez of UF. The National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham, N.C., is leading NSF's "Open Tree of Life" project. For more information visit

Doug Soltis | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Rutgers-led innovation could spur faster, cheaper, nano-based manufacturing
14.02.2018 | Rutgers University

nachricht New study from the University of Halle: How climate change alters plant growth
12.01.2018 | Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

Im Focus: Tiny implants for cells are functional in vivo

For the first time, an interdisciplinary team from the University of Basel has succeeded in integrating artificial organelles into the cells of live zebrafish embryos. This innovative approach using artificial organelles as cellular implants offers new potential in treating a range of diseases, as the authors report in an article published in Nature Communications.

In the cells of higher organisms, organelles such as the nucleus or mitochondria perform a range of complex functions necessary for life. In the networks of...

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

TRAPPIST-1 planets provide clues to the nature of habitable worlds

21.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

The search for dark matter widens

21.03.2018 | Materials Sciences

Natural enemies reduce pesticide use

21.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>