Using Web services to integrate data and compose analytic tools in the life sciences
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Advances in technology and computational approaches have resulted in an explosive increase in the quantity of biological data. How biologists share data and analytical tools efficiently is becoming a fundamental issue. One of the promising technologies to handle this challenge is Web service technology, which provides advanced features such as language independence, platform independence, compliance with universal standards and decoupling of service from client. At the end of 2007, there were 1078 biological databases. Providing biologists central and uniform access to all types of data stored in biological databases is becoming critical. To minimize disruption of current operations, maintain local autonomy and handle heterogeneities, federated databases and Web services have been proposed as a viable solution. This dissertation explores this situation and reports on our experience with testing multiple approaches for biological database integration. It discusses the trade-offs among performance, support for heterogeneity, robustness and scalability. Of significance is the discovery that the most flexible approach, Web Services, performs very competitively. Given the increasing prevalence of Web services that access biological data from multiple different locations and databases, we have seen an increasing interest in biological Web service composition to perform complex bioinformatics tasks. Although some research on composing biological Web services has been performed, resulting in tools such as BioMoby and Taverna, these tools are still too difficult to be easily used by the average biologist. Therefore, lowering the learning curve for Web service composition is a critical need. With this objective in mind, we have designed and implemented WS-BioZard, a new and comprehensive framework using multiple technologies and semi-automatic service composition to address this need.