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Pros and cons of public databases for data sharing

Article about advantages and limitations of public databases
Decorative illustration of viral particles and data, with the words
© COG-Train

The collaborative nature of bioinformatics and genomics research requires openness and data sharing amongst scientists, researchers and innovators. Bioinformatics databases represent organised bodies of data associated with computer software designed to update, query and retrieve components of the stored data. Ideally, these databases serve to provide easy access to information and facilitate data retrieval for analysis and comparative studies.

Developers of large consortium studies such as the Human Genome Project state that data obtained from the research and stored in online repositories should be publicly available (e.g. National Centre for Biotechnology Information, NCBI), on the basis that genomics research acceleration relies on the accessibility to this kind of information. In the era of COVID-19, open data sharing accelerated COVID-19 research and this concept benefitted millions of scientists around the world and was essential for a rapid response to the pandemic. However, developers and funders of research initiatives have alternative goals of economic benefit resulting in the creation of private genomic databases.

The concept of open science that can be shared and freely used provides a useful alternative that assists bioinformaticians and scientists overcome the lack of access to their own data – for example in African countries, where the limited availability of funding requires the generation of experimental data in external institutions that are based in high-income countries.

The advantages involved with open science include the provision of opportunities to verify original analyses; addressing new biological questions; the improvement of research reproducibility; enabling testing of new and secondary hypotheses; development and evaluation of new methods; production of new services through inter- and trans-disciplinary research; meta-analyses through the combination of datasets from different sources to achieve higher statistical power and new observations. Some cons or concerns involved in the practice of open data sharing include: endangering the privacy of research participants’ data; downstream uses of data not authorised in the initial informed consent retained.

Several resources are available to address concerns with open science such as Data Access Committees (DACs), responsible for the release of data to external parties based on legal, ethical and scientific eligibility. The data repositories provide the infrastructural solutions that enable scientists to use the data in a safe and ethical manner while speeding up the transfer of knowledge among researchers across scientific fields. A growing number of funding agencies and publishers advocate for and enforce data management for open science, however, challenges still exist for the proper exploitation of the data. While most scientists desire open access to data from others, the same enthusiasm is hardly noted in the dissemination of their own data, unless the intellectual property is awarded.

Have you experienced problems in accessing data because it was not shared openly? Are there any circumstances where there might be downsides to always sharing data in public databases? Please give your views in the discussion area.

References

Open data sharing accelerates COVID-19 research
Genomic research data generation, analysis and sharing – challenges in the African setting
Intellectual Property Protection in Bioinformatics and Open Bio Development

© COG-Train
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Making sense of genomic data: COVID-19 web-based bioinformatics

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