A bioinformatics startup is giving users a free taste of its wares in hopes of eventually realizing commercial success.
The company, Sequilab, recently launched a free web portal of the same name that offers access to publicly available online bioinformatics tools for sequence analysis, as well as social-networking capabilities to improve collaborations between research groups.
Access is currently free for all users, but the Sequilab team is considering ways to "monetize" the website, including a premium version of the software that would include advanced features, as well as an ad-supported model, CEO Dan Melvin told BioInform.
"What we are trying to do is build the community now and then when it reaches a specific size of user base, that’s when we would [go] commercial," Melvin said.
Regarding the ad-supported model, Melvin said the company believes it can serve as a link between users and vendors — particularly small- to medium-sized firms that are interested in reaching life-sciences researchers but don't have the advertising budgets that are available to much larger companies.
The free website provides users with access to software for genetic sequence analysis and lab-management tools. It also offers a social media component that allows users to create personal profiles in which they list research interests, grants, and published work and can participate in community forums or receive news feeds from scientific journals, job listings from career portals, or information on upcoming conferences.
Sequilab believes that this combination of data analysis and social networking capabilities makes the website unlike any other online resource for researchers, Natarajan Ganesan, one of Sequilab's founders, told BioInform.
Melvin added that while other websites provide a portion of Sequilab's services — for example, some have discussion forums whereas others feature a single piece of software — "no one is pulling them all together in one website and no one is doing it in the same seamlessly integrated way that we are doing it."
For data analysis, the website links users' Blast results to a cache of bioinformatics software enabling them to design primers, custom antibodies, and siRNA, and obtain information on vectors and enzymes.
Ganesan explained that Sequilab was created to address a frustration among researchers who need to perform different kinds of analyses using tools that are located on disparate sites.
With Sequilab, the developers aimed to create "a portal that does not just give you links but actually brings the results," he said. "You have one place where you [enter] a sequence and then you submit [it] to any tool that we list in our tool gallery ... [Sequilab] submits the query to that portal and gives the results to you in your window pane" eliminating the need for researchers to move back and forth between multiple websites when performing their analysis.
Sequilab's tool gallery provides access to more than 50 DNA, RNA, and protein-analysis tools, websites, and databases, including Blast, Uniprot, Primer3Plus, mfold, PlasMapper, and the Protein Data Bank.
Tool selection for the gallery was based on researchers' responses to surveys conducted prior to the launch as well as from his own background in bioinformatics and biophysics, Ganesan said.
In addition to linking the data and sequence-analysis tools, users can save the results of their research for later use and create custom bars of particular tools that they use most frequently.
Researchers can also discuss projects with colleagues via community forums and explore avenues for research collaborations.
Ganesan added that Sequilab expects the resource to offer benefits for open-source developers since it will give them a platform to showcase their software to the larger life-science community.
So far, the site has 500 registered users from over 15 countries.
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