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Ultra-Structure database design methodology for managing systems biology data and analyses

Creators: Maier, Christopher W, Long, Jeffrey G, Hemminger, Bradley M, Giddings, Morgan C

File Type: pdf | Filesize: 1 MB | Date Added: 2012-08-23 | Date Created: 2009-08-19

Abstract Background Modern, high-throughput biological experiments generate copious, heterogeneous, interconnected data sets. Research is dynamic, with frequently changing protocols, techniques, instruments, and file formats. Because of these factors, systems designed to manage and integrate modern biological data sets often end up as large, unwieldy databases that become difficult to maintain or evolve. The novel rule-based approach of the Ultra-Structure design methodology presents a potential solution to this problem. By representing both data and processes as formal rules within a database, an Ultra-Structure system constitutes a flexible framework that enables users to explicitly store domain knowledge in both a machine- and human-readable form. End users themselves can change the system's capabilities without programmer intervention, simply by altering database contents; no computer code or schemas need be modified. This provides flexibility in adapting to change, and allows integration of disparate, heterogenous data sets within a small core set of database tables, facilitating joint analysis and visualization without becoming unwieldy. Here, we examine the application of Ultra-Structure to our ongoing research program for the integration of large proteomic and genomic data sets (proteogenomic mapping). Results We transitioned our proteogenomic mapping information system from a traditional entity-relationship design to one based on Ultra-Structure. Our system integrates tandem mass spectrum data, genomic annotation sets, and spectrum/peptide mappings, all within a small, general framework implemented within a standard relational database system. General software procedures driven by user-modifiable rules can perform tasks such as logical deduction and location-based computations. The system is not tied specifically to proteogenomic research, but is rather designed to accommodate virtually any kind of biological research. Conclusion We find Ultra-Structure offers substantial benefits for biological information systems, the largest being the integration of diverse information sources into a common framework. This facilitates systems biology research by integrating data from disparate high-throughput techniques. It also enables us to readily incorporate new data types, sources, and domain knowledge with no change to the database structure or associated computer code. Ultra-Structure may be a significant step towards solving the hard problem of data management and integration in the systems biology era.