This week I would like to introduce you to Richard Smith, founder and software developer of Nowomics. He kindly agreed to answer some questions for our post blog series and here it is – first hand information on Nowomics. Keep reading to find out more about this company.
Richard Smith, founder and software developer of Nowomics
1. Could you please give us a short introduction to Nowomics (goals, interests, mission)?
Nowomics is a free website to help life scientists keep up with the latest papers and data relevant to their research. It lets researchers ‘follow’ genes and keywords to build their own news feed of what’s new and popular in their field. The aim is to help scientists discover the most useful information and avoid missing important journal articles, but without spending a lot of their time searching websites.
2. What makes Nowomics unique?
Nowomics tracks new papers, but also other sources of curated biological annotation and experimental data. It can tell you if a gene you work on has new annotation added or has been linked to a disease in a recent study. The aim is to build knowledge of these biological relationships into the software to help scientists navigate and discover information, rather than recommending papers simply by text similarity.
3. When did you realise that a tool such as Nowomics would be of a great help to the genomic research community?
I’ve been building websites and databases for biologists for a long time and have heard from many scientists how hard it is to keep up with the flood of new information. There are around 20,000 biomedical journal articles published every week and hundreds of sources of data online, receiving lots of emails with lists of paper titles isn’t a great solution. In social media interactive news feeds that adapt to an individual are now commonly used as an excellent way to consume large amounts of new information, I wanted to apply these principles to tracking biology research.
4. Which part of developing the tool you found most challenging?
As with a lot of software, making sure Nowomics is as useful as possible to users has been the hardest part. It’s quite straightforward to identify a problem and build some software, but making sure the two are correctly aligned to provide maximum value to users has been the difficult part. It has meant trying many things, demonstrating ideas and listening to a lot of feedback. Handling large amounts of data and writing text mining software to identify thousands of biological terms is simple by comparison!
5. What are your plans for the future of Nowomics? Are you working on adding new features/apps?
There are lots of new features planned. Currently Nowomics focuses on genes/proteins and selected organisms. We’ll soon make this much broader, so scientists will be able to follow diseases, pathways, species, processes and many other keywords. We’re working on how these terms can be combined together for fine grained control of what appears in news feeds. It’s also important to make sharing with colleagues and recommending research extremely simple.
6. Can you think of examples of how Nowomics supports data access and knowledge dissemination within the genomics community?
The first step to sharing data sets and accessing research is for the right people to know they exist. This is exactly what Nowomics was set up to achieve, to benefit both scientists who need to be alerted to useful information and for those generating or funding research to reach the best possible audience. Hopefully Nowomics will also alert people to relevant shared genomics data in future.
7. What does ethical data sharing mean to you?
For data that can advance scientific and medical research the most ethical thing to do is to share it with other researchers to help make progress. This is especially true for data resulting from publicly funded research. However, with medical and genomics data the issues of confidentiality and privacy must take priority, and individuals must be aware what their information may be used for.
8. What are the most important things that you think should be done in the field of genetic data sharing?
The challenge is to find a way to unlock the huge potential of sharing genomics data for analysis while respecting the very real privacy concerns. A platform that enables sharing in a secure, controlled manner which preserves privacy and anonymity seems essential, I’m very interested in what DNADigest are doing in this regard.