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Open Access Highly Accessed Software

Mining locus tags in PubMed Central to improve microbial gene annotation

Chris J Stubben* and Jean F Challacombe

Author Affiliations

Bioscience Division, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, NM, USA

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BMC Bioinformatics 2014, 15:43  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-15-43

Published: 5 February 2014



The scientific literature contains millions of microbial gene identifiers within the full text and tables, but these annotations rarely get incorporated into public sequence databases. We propose to utilize the Open Access (OA) subset of PubMed Central (PMC) as a gene annotation database and have developed an R package called pmcXML to automatically mine and extract locus tags from full text, tables and supplements.


We mined locus tags from 1835 OA publications in ten microbial genomes and extracted tags mentioned in 30,891 sentences in main text and 20,489 rows in tables. We identified locus tag pairs marking the start and end of a region such as an operon or genomic island and expanded these ranges to add another 13,043 tags. We also searched for locus tags in supplementary tables and publications outside the OA subset in Burkholderia pseudomallei K96243 for comparison. There were 168 publications containing 48,470 locus tags and 83% of mentions were from supplementary materials and 9% from publications outside the OA subset.


B. pseudomallei locus tags within the full text and tables of OA publications represent only a small fraction of the total mentions in the literature. For microbial genomes with very few functionally characterized proteins, the locus tags mentioned in supplementary tables and within ranges like genomic islands contain the majority of locus tags. Significantly, the functions in the R package provide access to additional resources in the OA subset that are not currently indexed or returned by searching PMC.