Guidelines for standard descriptions and terminology in genomics and regenerative medicine

4 June 2008

Scientific progress requires the use of clear and standardised terminology by different stakeholders such as academia, industry, government and regulators. This month saw the publication of guidelines for describing genomes and metagenomes by the Genomic Standards Consortium (GSC), as well as publication of guidelines on terminology used in regenerative medicine by the British Standards Institute (see press release).

The GSC is an open membership international body bringing together researchers in varied fields ranging from ecology to computer science. Their aim is “to promote mechanisms that standardize the description of genomes and the exchange and integration of genomic data”. In an article published in Nature Biotechnology, Field et al. describe the necessity of standardised descriptions and propose mechanisms for providing this information as well as its implications for genetic databases [Field et al. (2008) Nat. Biotech. doi:10.1038/nbt1360]. The minimum information about a genome sequence (MIGS) specifies a formal way to describe genomes and metagenomes and extends the minimum information already available in genomic databases such as The International Nucleotide Sequence Database Collaboration (INSDC). Information requested by MIGS relate to the geographical location, sampling date and experimental methods used to gain the genomic data amongst others; thereby allowing it to be used in comparative genomic analysis and to gain a better understanding of the source of each genome. The GSC hopes that MIGS specification will promote discussion and solicit further feedback from the community, its ongoing efforts include an open call for participation and collection of MIGS reports and vocabulary terms for use in the description of genomes and metagenomes.

The Publicly Available Specification (PAS) published by the BSI: PAS 84 – Regenerative medicine is a glossary explaining terminology in regenerative medicine and defines over 200 terms such as “tissue bank” and “cell authenticity”.  This glossary supports and build on the terminology in PAS 83 - Guidance on codes of practice, standardised methods and regulations for cell-based therapeutics – from basic research to clinical application and is intended to help UK stakeholders to:

  • Facilitate a common understanding of the science of regenerative medicine
  • Prepare for legal, commercial and societal issues
  • Improve communication and understanding of the science of regenerative medicine
  • Demonstrate best practice and product quality
  • Reduce research, development, production and transaction costs

Comment: As scientific research progresses and produces increasing quantities of raw data (particularly in areas such as genomic and post-genomic research), standardised terminology allows efficient and effective communication between stakeholders. They are also important for the development of easily accessible and interoperable databases as well as regulatory guidelines, both at the international and national levels. Moves such as those described here are likely to become increasingly common as the number of international collaborative research initiatives continue to rise.

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