iSpecies and taxonomy (no, not that kind)

For the last few years I’ve been lurking on a mailing list run by the Taxonomic Databases Working Group. It’s a low volume list used by scientists interested in capturing and marking up taxonomies. That’s taxonomy in the Linnaean sense not the semantic web sense. I’ve been lurking there since I wrote this paper a while back proposing an XML format to replace a text based format that had been popular.
Yesterday on the list this interesting little mash-up was announced: It works by searching NCBI, Yahoo images and Google Scholar to attempt to find relevant information on biological specis. Lions for example.
I found it interesting mainly because it is was one of the first mashups I’ve seen that aren’t combinations of the same old APIs (maps, music, bookmarks) but also because its clearly focused at a particular scientific community.
The author, Rod Page (apparently a big RDF fan) built this as an off-shoot of a wider project thats storing phylogenetic data as RDF. His site also has a Taxonomic Search Engine which federates a number of taxonomic name databases. Perform a search it links you to metadata about the organism. There’s a paper on the application on BioMedCentral.
Given an LSID (Life Sciences Identifier) it turns out you can get RDF metadata about the organism. Lions for example.
There’s a lot of interesting mash-up potential in this data, as well as that available from a few other projects in this area.
I’ve been keeping half an eye on this space recently, after reading this paper on how bioinformatic researchers are bumping into limits of XML and looking at RDF instead: “…the syntactic and document-centric XML cannot achieve the level of interoperability required by the highly dynamic and integrated bioinformatics applications“.
These guys have a lot of data that needs integrating and merging. Modern classification is about much more than the old Linnaean system. It has to be able to merge together data sources ranging from molecular biology through to field observations, and depending on what sources you draw on, and from what level, the tree of life can be draw quite differently.
The early web has pioneered in part by the needs of scientists exchanging research papers. It strikes me that “eScience” and bioinformatics may very well become the driving forces behind a more semantic web.