Unique DNA database has helped advance scientific discoveries worldwide
Since its origin 25 years ago, the database of nucleic acid sequences known as GenBank has become one of the key tools that scientists worldwide use to conduct biomedical and biologic research. Established by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 1982, GenBank has grown at an exponential rate, doubling in size every 18 months. In celebration of this vital resource and its contribution to science over the last 25 years, the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), National Library of Medicine (NLM), and NIH held a two-day conference on GenBank in April at the main NIH campus in Bethesda, MD.
"GenBank has been a critical research tool," says NCBI Director David Lipman, "enabling much of the progress that has been made over the last two decades in understanding biological function and genetics. The value of the database will only expand as it continues to grow."
The conference attracted a host of genetic research luminaries, included among them:
- Rich Roberts, Ph.D., a Nobel Prize winner for his discoveries of split genes, and currently Chief Scientific Officer at New England BioLabs
- Sydney Brenner, Ph.D., a Nobel Prize winner for his work on genetic regulation of organ development and programmed cell death, and currently a professor at the Salk Institute
- Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., who led the Human Genome Project and is Director of NIH's National Human Genome Research Institute
- Craig Venter, Ph.D., who led the private-sector effort to sequence the human genome and is President of the J. Craig Venter Institute.
What Is GenBank?
Basically, GenBank is the biggest database of DNA in the world. Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is the chemical compound that contains the instructions needed to develop and direct the activities of nearly all living organisms. DNA molecules are made of two twisting, paired strands, often referred to as a double helix.
The data in GenBank is provided by those who conduct the sequencing, mostly individual labs and large-scale sequencing projects. GenBank exchanges data daily with its two partners in the International Nucleotide Sequence Database Collaboration (INSDC): the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) and the DNA Data Bank of Japan (DDBJ).
"GenBank has provided a foundation on which much of contemporary biology is now based," says genetics researcher and Nobel Laureate Dr. Rich Roberts. "It is becoming almost impossible to conceive of any serious biological study of a new organism that does not begin with the determination of its DNA sequence, which of course must be stored in GenBank."