Wikipedia hosts human gene repository

 

U.S. scientists are developing a “Gene Wiki” with the aim of fostering a flexible, organic archive of human genetic information.

The project exists within Wikipedia, and is expected to speed up the process of deciphering genome sequences.

According to Andrew Su, whose report of the project appears this week in the scientific journal PLoS Biology, the researchers were emboldened to develop the Wiki by Wikipedia’s “Be Bold” ethos.

To speed up the development of the ‘Gene Wiki’, the researchers developed a computer program that downloads information from existing databases, formats it, and posts the information as a ‘stub’ article on Wikipedia.

The stub articles are expected to seed the posting of more detailed information by Wikipedia users. Ultimately, the researchers hope to create a network of articles that will describe the relationship and functions of all human genes.

“Since the content in the Gene Wiki is encyclopedic in nature, then it only made sense to work in the context of Wikipedia than trying to compete with it,” said Su, a Senior Research Investigator at the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation.

“Moreover, there are a lot of advantages of working there,” he told iTnews, highlighting Wikipedia’s active group of users, existing pages about related concepts, and search engine visibility as examples.

“Ever since Wikipedia was launched, there have been a huge number of one-off wikis [that] pop up in the hopes that they can duplicate Wikipedia’s success,” he said.

“Probably the vast majority of these fail, and they usually fail because they never get the critical mass of users that are necessary to keep a wiki alive.”

Like many undertakings in user-generated content, however, the Gene Wiki has raised some concerns to do with the reliability and accuracy of its content.

In the past, Wikipedia has been the target of occasional “non-productive edits” such as vandalism and inaccurate additions.

But as the Gene Wiki involves specialist, non-mainstream information, Su expects vandalism to be a minor issue. Inaccurate additions should be easily overcome by a community of editors with the aid of referencing in footnotes.

“Users need to understand that reading a Wikipedia article is not like reading a journal article,” he noted. “At any given moment, the article may be incomplete, misleading, or just plain wrong.”

“But overall, things will trend toward being correct and up-to-date,” Su said, citing a recent study by scientific journal Nature that found Wikipedia to be of similar accuracy to the Online Britannica for science topics.

Since the launch of the project, the researchers have found the number of edits on mammalian gene pages to have doubled.

The researchers hope to create a positive feedback loop among scientists to improve the project and encourage community contribution.

“I think the idea of community intelligence is a proven model that will undoubtedly have a place in scientific research,” Su told iTnews.

“What the exact model should look like is certainly open to debate, and more importantly, trial-and-error.”

“I hope that many alternatives are tried by many different organizations, and it will up to the community to decide which option or options are workable,” he said.

“The best part is that people vote with their participation.”

Wikipedia hosts human gene repository
 
 
 
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