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Seahawk: moving beyond HTML in Web-based bioinformatics analysis

Paul MK Gordon and Christoph W Sensen

Author Affiliations

University of Calgary, Faculty of Medicine, Sun Center of Excellence for Visual Genomics, 3330 Hospital Drive NW, Calgary, AB, T2N 4N1, Canada

BMC Bioinformatics 2007, 8:208  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-8-208

Published: 18 June 2007



Traditional HTML interfaces for input to and output from Bioinformatics analysis on the Web are highly variable in style, content and data formats. Combining multiple analyses can therfore be an onerous task for biologists. Semantic Web Services allow automated discovery of conceptual links between remote data analysis servers. A shared data ontology and service discovery/execution framework is particularly attractive in Bioinformatics, where data and services are often both disparate and distributed. Instead of biologists copying, pasting and reformatting data between various Web sites, Semantic Web Service protocols such as MOBY-S hold out the promise of seamlessly integrating multi-step analysis.


We have developed a program (Seahawk) that allows biologists to intuitively and seamlessly chain together Web Services using a data-centric, rather than the customary service-centric approach. The approach is illustrated with a ferredoxin mutation analysis. Seahawk concentrates on lowering entry barriers for biologists: no prior knowledge of the data ontology, or relevant services is required. In stark contrast to other MOBY-S clients, in Seahawk users simply load Web pages and text files they already work with. Underlying the familiar Web-browser interaction is an XML data engine based on extensible XSLT style sheets, regular expressions, and XPath statements which import existing user data into the MOBY-S format.


As an easily accessible applet, Seahawk moves beyond standard Web browser interaction, providing mechanisms for the biologist to concentrate on the analytical task rather than on the technical details of data formats and Web forms. As the MOBY-S protocol nears a 1.0 specification, we expect more biologists to adopt these new semantic-oriented ways of doing Web-based analysis, which empower them to do more complicated, ad hoc analysis workflow creation without the assistance of a programmer.