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GSC Aims to Unite Genome Sequences with MIGS Standards

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As the flow of complete genome and metagenome sequences continues to grow thanks to high-throughput sequencing methods, the question of how to organize these growing gold mines of data in a manner that serves the research community at large becomes more pressing. This means it's critical to establish standards among labs from around the world that will help describe the genomes beyond what is usually contained in current genome annotations.

The Genomics Standards Consortium is one international effort working to address this issue. GSC recently released the definitive version of its Minimum Information about a Genome Sequence guideline. MIGS contains only primary, curated information and aims to provide comprehensive descriptions of a range of genomes, including the origin of the sequences, sequence processing, and date, time, and habitat of the sampling. Investigators can then submit MIGS-compatible reports to GSC using a specialized XML schema and controlled vocabularies via the consortium's own catalogue of genomes.

George Garrity, a professor at Michigan State University and lead member of GSC, believes that without being able to apply standardized descriptions for genomes it will become increasingly difficult to make thorough use of all of the information that has been collected. "Coming from a taxonomic community and realizing that this is something that people have been trying to do for hundreds of years, all we're looking at now is providing descriptive information for genomes instead of whole organisms," says Garrity. "But it's pretty much an extension of some of the fundamental [taxonomic] concepts in that there is laboratory data and you need all this associated information to put everything in the appropriate context — temporally, spatially, climatically."

Despite the fact that GSC is comprised of a large number of international contributors, arriving at consensus on how to shape MIGS was not the biggest challenge facing the consortium. Instead, getting the research community at large to use MIGS is the real hurdle. "There is always a problem with adoption and buy-in. You can always get early adopters, but one of the problems is once you begin asking people to put specific kinds of information, getting compliance to make sure that the data set is consistently tagged is always a big challenge," says Garrity. "The other thing is being able to tie in the accumulated data that we will have in the future with the information that exists in the past."

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