DNA provides the basic blueprint for life, but for those who know how to read it, it also contains a history of life that is as useful as the fossil record.

Today new biotechnologies allow scientists to read more and more DNA data from the genomes, or the complete set of genetic material, of more and more species.

With this tidal wave of new genomic data, there is a risk of losing the biological context for the strings of As, Cs, Gs and Ts that make up the genomic code. For example, what species or individual provided the DNA sample? Where and when was the individual sampled? In what kind of environment was it found? What specific methods were used to collect the DNA sequence data? Together, the answers to these questions make up the "metadata" associated with genomic data.

 A new web-based database, the Genomics Observatory Metadatabase (GeOMe), catalogs these important metadata, making it easier for researchers worldwide to share, map, and reuse genomic data for environmental analysis and ecological research.

 One of the leaders of this new initiative is Dr. Eric Crandall, an assistant professor at CSU Monterey Bay. His work reflects the new emphasis on genomics research at CSU Monterey Bay, where faculty study the genomes of species ranging from tiny bacteria involved in wastewater treatment to great white sharks.

 "Genomic data are the foundational layer for our understanding of biodiversity – but until now it has been difficult to put them in their environmental and geospatial context," Crandall says. "Scientists put a lot of time and effort into developing genomic datasets, and these metadata deserve to be stored in a way that will maximize their potential for reuse and further discovery." Crandall developed GeOMe in collaboration with an international team from five other institutions, including the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and UC Berkeley.

 A scientific paper describing  GeOMe is now available at PLoS Biology. 

Find out more about the Crandall Lab at CSU Monterey Bay here: http://www.ericcrandall.org/

Read more about genetics and genomic science here: https://www.genome.gov/19016904/