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Databases and GIS Technologies
Computerization of morpho-anatomical descriptions of millions of species raises the question of data uniformity. Computer applications, including database management tools needed to search stored data, require the data to be stored in a reasonably uniform way. On the other hand, biologists want to be able to represent freely the richness and infinite variety of forms encountered in nature.
Existing solutions have been to tack a uniform code (such as DELTA – descriptive language for taxonomy) onto the variety of data, but this does not solve the problem.
The team of the GENISYS (General Information System) project has be working on an approach that seems to promote uniformity while allowing authors to describe in their own words any morpho-anatomical character they observe.
The GENISYS standard format decomposes any traditional morpho-anatomical character (whether it is proposed for taxonomic, identification, or description purposes) into an entity (system, organ, tissue, cell, etc.), a property (measurement, shape, position, orientation, color, etc.), and a value (numerical value or qualitative state).
Representation is assured by the fact that any existing structure can be added to the list of structures for a biological group. Uniformity is assured by the fact that all the properties used by authors were found to belong to a very short list of about 20 so-called "basic properties". As part of the GENISYS project, many rules and guidelines have been defined to support uniformity in the list of structures and selection of basic properties. These rules could be implemented and enforced by a Web-based "schema tool" to help future users to create "schemas" for various biological groups.
A tool (Terminator) could be built to extract character data from existing descriptions and convert these data into the standard format prior to storage in a database.
The same approach could be used for other kinds of data, including physiological and genetic (molecular) data.
Note. Abstracts are published in author's edition
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