The growing importance of genomic metadata standards in the time of coronavirus

June 22, 2020

In a new article in Nature: Scientific Data, BIDS Senior Fellow Neil Davies and colleagues from the Genomics Standards Consortium highlight the importance of implementing higher standards for categorizing genomic metadata, and how critical data accuracy becomes in effectively mobilizing the scientific community to prepare for and respond to emergencies like the coronavirus pandemic.

Understanding of the environmental context of a genetic sequence becomes crucial when addressing urgent questions in human health, such as the current pandemic. According to the report, "With COVID-19, the time and place a biosample was collected has suddenly become a life and death issue. As with previous pathogen outbreaks, the reporting of pertinent metadata has become critical."  

Descriptions of data are known as metadata.  Metadata describe the who, what, how, when, and where of a particular genetic sample.  Accurate metadata enables researchers to conduct comparative analysis, more efficiantly evaluate disease progression (by revealing variations such as host-specificity, modes of transmission, and sample collection protocols), and more effectively inform public health responses (by advancing risk prediction, diagnosis, treatment options, and outcomes).

By providing consistent standards for the collection and annotation of temporal-spatial metadata — and by encouraging institutes and organizations to incentivize good data management policies and practices — the GSC hopes to emphasize the importance of accurate, reusable and reproducible data. 

Davies has been working to enhance research data stewardship in domains relevant to human and planetary health. For example, a new project with California Digital Library, called FAIR Island helps to promote and implement best practices in research data management by leveraging efforts to build digital representations of complex social-ecological systems - e.g. Moorea IDEA and  Tetiaroa IDEA.


COVID-19 pandemic reveals the peril of ignoring metadata standards
June 19, 2020  |  Scientific Data
Lynn M. Schriml, Maria Chuvochina, Neil Davies, Emiley A. Eloe-Fadrosh, Robert D. Finn, Philip Hugenholtz, Christopher I. Hunter, Bonnie L. Hurwitz, Nikos C. Kyrpides, Folker Meyer, Ilene Karsch Mizrachi, Susanna-Assunta Sansone, Granger Sutton, Scott Tighe & Ramona Walls 

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Neil Davies

Gump South Pacific Research Station
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