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May 7, 2008

Purdue launches EcoliHub; unites scientists and information throughout the world

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -
EcoliHub web site
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Purdue University announced Wednesday (May 7) the launch of EcoliHub, a central online source for information about the bacteria Escherichia coli.

Barry L. Wanner, who is leading the project, said E. coli has served as a model organism that has led to innumerable discoveries about fundamental cellular processes that are key to understanding all living cells.

"E. coli is the most deeply understood organism at the molecular level," said Wanner, who is a professor of biological sciences at Purdue. "It has great importance as a model organism. Because so many researchers have worked with E. coli, the information is spread out among many different databases and information resources. The goal of EcoliHub is to make the vast information about E. coli more accessible by bringing these resources together."

EcoliHub, available at http://www.ecolihub.org , will connect resources and allow scientists comprehensive access to the information available, he said.

"We have collaborations with E. coli resources around the world, and scientists can now access information from all of these sources from EcoliHub," Wanner said. "It will provide a large and widespread scientific community a central location to find information, share ideas and initiate collaborations."

Dawn Whitaker, EcoliHub project manager in Purdue's department of biological sciences, said the hub uses many of the latest Web technologies like Web services. It also has a powerful search engine, a Wiki component that allows users to annotate information and images, and bulletin boards for posting events and news.

"The EcoliHub websearch is like Google, but it returns only relevant information from sources that have been checked out and indexed by EcoliHub," she said. "It can even perform conflict detection, which identifies when two sites disagree, allowing the users to review differing perspectives on a topic."

EcoliHub provides information on the genetics, physiology, molecular makeup and gene expression patterns of the most comprehensively studied E. coli strain, K-12.

In addition, EcoliHub offers a community forum for question-and-answer postings, research discussions and suggestions for new EcoliHub functions.

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health funded the EcoliHub as a proof of concept project at over $1 million per year for 3 years. EcoliHub is freely accessible to the scientific community and the public.

"E. coli K-12 has been one of the major workhorses of basic science research since its discovery in the 1920s," said Matthew E. Portnoy, who oversees the EcoliHub grant at National Institute of General Medical Sciences. "Much of what we know about how cells work came from research on K-12, and the bacterium continues to be a source of insight. EcoliHub brings the huge amount of information that exists on K-12 under one roof, making it easier for biologists of all stripes to access the information they need to conduct their research."

The EcoliHub project team includes scientists from Texas A&M University, University of Oklahoma and SRI International. The team has worked together for two years to develop EcoliHub and will continue to enhance the resource. 

Co-principal investigators at Purdue are professors of biological sciences Michael Gribskov and Daisuke Kihara, and professor of computer science Walid Aref. Additional co-principal investigators are James C. Hu and Debby Siegele at Texas A&M University, Tyrrell Conway at Oklahoma University and Peter Karp at SRI International. Purdue professor of mechanical and chemical engineering Sangtae Kim is a senior scientist for the project.

The EcoliHub team at Purdue has also involved more than 10 undergraduate and graduate students, as well as post doctoral associates in biological sciences and computer science and a small team of programmers.

EcoliHub is designed to evolve and expand over time and will continually incorporate additional online resources and scientific tools. The team plans for the community to help shape the future of the hub through suggestions and direct contributions of information and resources.

Writer: Elizabeth Gardner, (765) 494-2081, ekgardner@purdue.edu

Sources: Barry Wanner, (765) 494-8034, blwanner@purdue.edu

Dawn Whitaker, dwhitaker@purdue.edu

NIGMS Office of Communications and Public Liaison  Kirstie Saltsman, 301-496-7301, saltsmank@mail.nih.gov

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu

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