Information is liberating
Data and information systems make our lives easier, in our personal capacity and in our workspace, allowing us to access the information we need with ease and efficiency. In the world of plant genetic resources, this information system is called Genesys.
First launched in 2011, Genesys is a one-stop global portal to data on plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA) conserved in genebanks around the world. It serves as a gateway from which germplasm accessions from genebanks can be easily found and requested, making the access to material a lot easier and contributing significantly to the development of a comprehensive, global information system on crop diversity, as called for by the International Treaty for Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA).
With Genesys, data providers can make available to the public the information on material they maintain, as well as compare their collection with those in other genebanks. This allows them to avoid duplication and focus their resources and efforts on filling gaps in their collections. Genesys also lets breeders know which genebanks hold the varieties that might have the traits they need to develop more resilient crops into the future.
Beyond data on the accession itself, Genesys provides access to millions of records of environmental information associated with accession collecting sites (part of the accession’s “passport data”). For example, researchers, breeders or farmers seeking specific genetic variation (think color of the seed, collection site, annual rainfall in the area) can use Genesys to select exactly the characteristics they are looking for with only a few key strokes and clicks of the mouse. What used to take hours, possibly even days of research and requests, now can be achieved in a matter of minutes or even seconds.
All this to say that Genesys is a pretty useful tool for users of PGRFA and will continue to improve and be more user-driven in the years to come.
Portal Improvements: For the people and by the people
Genesys currently contains passport data on 3.6 million plant accessions conserved in 482 collections around the world. Most of these records are from CGIAR, USDA and EURISCO genebanks. Sounds like a lot of data, right? It is, and this number will continue to increase in the years to come, along will the platform’s capabilities and efficacy.
Genesys serves as the primary data source for a number of activities of the CGIAR Genebank Platform, and these activities rely on up-to-date accession information. As such, development of Genesys is a high priority and an element of the Genebank Platform’s “Use Module.” The Module aims to empower users of genebank materials and associated data with intuitive query tools for enhanced discovery of crop diversity relevant to their specific needs.
The development of Genesys, therefore, will be driven by user needs. A use case developer will visit, survey, interview and document user needs, expectations and data requirements. Use cases will then be developed with partners and stakeholders that will set priorities and steer Genesys implementation.
So what does a use-case developer do?
A use case explores and suggests new Genesys functionality and data types, estimates effort required by data providers and developers, and provides justification for the overall investment. Use cases will cover areas ranging from the very core of the Genesys system (think managing basic data) to high-level functionality such as BrAPI, the plant breeding API to enable the exchange of data between plant breeding databases (to provide linkage to breeders’ platforms).
Improving functionality can be challenging, therefore strategic partnerships with other bioinformatics groups (e.g. James Hutton Institute) will be critical for the success of this activity.
Genesys will be enhanced for analytic functionality and enabled to communicate with databases that share standards and ontologies, such as those to be used as part of BrAPI, and databases that are based on similar tools, like those being developed in the GOBII project.
Genesys developers will work with experts in the Excellence in Breeding Platform to evaluate and adapt tools or mechanisms for storing, managing, and linking phenotypic, genotypic, and environmental data to accessions. A key facilitating element will be a common system for the unique identification of samples (think barcodes in your local supermarket) using DOIs, so that data can easily be traced back to accessions in genebanks. This is being implemented with the Global Information System of the ITPGRFA.
An expanded Genesys development team and network will allow Genesys to become more interoperable and essentially play friendly with other relevant databases and data warehouses.
How can you be involved?
Spreading the word about Genesys will be a key element in supporting the success of Genesys development. Success stories will be shared to raise awareness about Genesys functionality, to stimulate its use and attract new data providers.
The development of the Genesys portal is continually ongoing, and the user of the information in Genesys remains the most crucial contributor to the future development of the system. Please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to guide the future development of the portal.