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The Language of Bioinformatics

Once the world had a single language and not too many words, but then clarity deteriorated into clamor. Today in the small but prolific world of bioinformatics, another Tower of Babel is rising up, with the miscommunication due as much to the rapid expansion of information as to basic changes in how it is processed. "Horrible problems" crop up as more information is computed on instead of read by a human researcher, according to Ewan Birney, a group leader in the Ensembl genome annotation projec

Potter Wickware

Once the world had a single language and not too many words, but then clarity deteriorated into clamor. Today in the small but prolific world of bioinformatics, another Tower of Babel is rising up, with the miscommunication due as much to the rapid expansion of information as to basic changes in how it is processed. "Horrible problems" crop up as more information is computed on instead of read by a human researcher, according to Ewan Birney, a group leader in the Ensembl genome annotation project at the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) in Cambridge, England.

In the early days of bioinformatics, human-readable data exchange formats such as ASN.1, the format adopted for GenBank by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) 10 years ago, were the norm. Easily editable with a text utility, ASN.1's syntactic looseness makes it congenial to the human user, but not to the machine, which likes...

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