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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Gene and protein nomenclature in public databases

Katrin Fundel* and Ralf Zimmer

Author Affiliations

Institut für Informatik, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Amalienstrasse 17, 80333 München, Germany

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BMC Bioinformatics 2006, 7:372  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-7-372

Published: 9 August 2006

Abstract

Background

Frequently, several alternative names are in use for biological objects such as genes and proteins. Applications like manual literature search, automated text-mining, named entity identification, gene/protein annotation, and linking of knowledge from different information sources require the knowledge of all used names referring to a given gene or protein. Various organism-specific or general public databases aim at organizing knowledge about genes and proteins. These databases can be used for deriving gene and protein name dictionaries. So far, little is known about the differences between databases in terms of size, ambiguities and overlap.

Results

We compiled five gene and protein name dictionaries for each of the five model organisms (yeast, fly, mouse, rat, and human) from different organism-specific and general public databases. We analyzed the degree of ambiguity of gene and protein names within and between dictionaries, to a lexicon of common English words and domain-related non-gene terms, and we compared different data sources in terms of size of extracted dictionaries and overlap of synonyms between those.

The study shows that the number of genes/proteins and synonyms covered in individual databases varies significantly for a given organism, and that the degree of ambiguity of synonyms varies significantly between different organisms. Furthermore, it shows that, despite considerable efforts of co-curation, the overlap of synonyms in different data sources is rather moderate and that the degree of ambiguity of gene names with common English words and domain-related non-gene terms varies depending on the considered organism.

Conclusion

In conclusion, these results indicate that the combination of data contained in different databases allows the generation of gene and protein name dictionaries that contain significantly more used names than dictionaries obtained from individual data sources. Furthermore, curation of combined dictionaries considerably increases size and decreases ambiguity.

The entries of the curated synonym dictionary are available for manual querying, editing, and PubMed- or Google-search via the ProThesaurus-wiki. For automated querying via custom software, we offer a web service and an exemplary client application.