PLoS highlights online DNA "encyclopedia"

The human genome is vast and complex, and there's a lot of work to be done to fully understand it. The Encyclopedia of DNA Elements, or ENCODE, is a global effort to bring clarity to the genome and its multiple parts. And last week the open access journal PLoS Biology published a paper that gives an overview of the massive project.

The aim of ENCODE is "to enable the scientific and medical communities to interpret the human genome sequence and apply it to understand human biology and improve health," the paper says. There's a large and freely available database that includes information from the project, with details on specific genes, RNA transcripts, and certain regions of the human genome. Project members have also developed new algorithms and used other software for analyzing genomic data, according to the paper.

The encyclopedia promises to be a key resource for groups involved in studying the human genome. With the dramatic drop in the cost of sequencing a whole human genome, there's an unprecedented amount of genomic data available today. To make this information useful in improving healthcare, however, researchers are studying the functions of genes and other elements of the 3 billion-base pair human genome. Ultimately, these efforts could lead to the discovery of better and new medicines that can target the drivers of each patient's disease or provide tools to improve prognoses of individual patients' illnesses.

"ENCODE resources are already being used by scientists for discovery," Ross Hardison, a molecular biology professor at Pennsylvania State University and a principal investigator of the ENCODE project, said in a statement. "But what's kind of revolutionary is that they also are being used in classes to train students in all areas of biology. Our classes here at Penn State are using real data on genomic variation and function in classroom problem sets, shortly after the labs have generated them."

- check out the article in PloS Biology
- here's the release from Penn State