5.1: Databases organize information
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Databases are organized collections of information. The information is contained in individual records, each of which is assigned a unique accession number. Records in a database contain a number of fields that can be used to search the database. For a simple example, consider a class roster. Students in a class roster are identified by a unique ID number assigned by the college, which serves as the equivalent of an accession number. Class rosters contain a variety of fields, such as the student names, majors, graduation year and email addresses. Thus, class instructors are able to quickly search the rosters for students with a particular graduation year or major. (The class roster is actually a derivative database, because it draws on information from the much larger student information database maintained by the college.)
Information on genes and proteins is organized into multiple databases that vary widely in their size and focus. Many of the largest database collections receive support from governments, because of their importance to biomedical research. By far, the largest collection of databases
is housed at the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) in the United States. NCBI includes literature, nucleotide, protein and structure databases, as well as powerful tools for analyzing data. The NCBI is part of an international network of databases, which includes smaller counterparts in Europe and Japan. Information can enter the network through any of these three portals, which exchange information daily.
It is important to keep in mind that information in databases is not static! Scientists make mistakes and technology continues to improve. It is not uncommon to find changes in a database record. Scientists with an interest in a particular gene are well-advised to check frequently for updates!