Even the most experienced cyberscientist can easily get lost in the vast labyrinth of data on human genes available on the Internet thanks to the international Human Genome Project. Now Weizmann Institute scientists have created GeneCards, a new on-line database and software tool that provides scientists, biotechnologists, physicians and teachers with fast and convenient access to the genetic information they need.
GeneCards is updated on an ongoing basis by software "robots" intelligent computer programs that search relevant genomic databases and websites, then organize and present the data in a concise and easy-to-read format. This automatic procedure, known as data mining, guarantees that when you access GeneCards, you're always looking at the most up-to-date information.
GeneCards was created by a team that included postdoctoral fellows Drs. Michael Rebhan and Vered Chalifa-Caspi and doctoral student Gustavo Glusman. The team is headed by Prof. Doron Lancet of the Molecular Genetics Department, head of the Institute's Genome Center, and Dr. Jaime Prilusky of the Biological Services, head of Weizmann's Bioinformatics Unit. Currently, it also includes postdoctoral fellow Dr. Liora Yaar and engineer Marilyn Safran.
GeneCards features a page, or card, for every human gene. Each card contains a particular gene's vital statistics, such as its official name, the protein it encodes, its functions in the cell, its location on a chromosome, and information about the diseases caused by its mutations. It may also list similar genes found in organisms other than humans or provide links to other relevant sites based on bioinformatics, the dynamic new discipline that combines biology with computer science.
One of GeneCards' most striking features is its "intelligent interface" which helps searchers reach more efficiently the data they need. For instance, if a query produces no results, the database may suggest a way to reformulate the question, correct a spelling error, or provide tips on where else to look for information.
Currently, GeneCards contains information on over 7,000 human genes that have already been clearly identified and named by scientists deciphering the human genome. It is now being augmented to include tens of thousands of new genes that have been identified, but whose function is not yet known. By the time the Human Genome Project is completed (probably around the year 2002), the database will encompass all 80,000-100,000 human genes.
By fall 1998, the GeneCards site averaged about 22,000 hits per month from around the globe. It's generated special interest among Israeli and foreign biotechnology firms interested in developing new drugs based on human gene information.