Taralyn Tan Ph.D. Curriculum Fellow Harvard Medical
Check out these websites from GEN’s Best of the Web.
The Internet is a big place; when you’re looking for biotech-related websites, where should you start? At GEN’s Best of the Web, of course! Every other issue, we bring you a list of biotech- and biopharma-related websites we think you, GEN reader, would find useful and/or interesting. Here is our most recent list of the Best of the Web. Enjoy!
Four stars: Excellent
Three stars: Very Good
Two stars: Good
+ Strong points
– Weak points
Reptile Database ★★
+ Detailed information given for individual species
– Poor site navigation/organization
The homepage for this site may be in-your-face with its graphics and color scheme, but don’t let the rainbow-hued navigation menu chase you away from this informative website. The Reptile Database is respectable in size, boasting just fewer than 10,000 species as of July 2013. Site visitors enter the massive database through one of six reptilian categories—lizards, snakes, tuataras, crocodiles, amphisbaenians, or turtles—although it doesn’t actually matter which one you choose, as they all direct you to the same index page. From that page users select a specific family to pursue (such as, say, wood lizards), and are finally routed to a page where they can select individual species. As you might have been able to tell from my verbose descriptions of site navigation, the organization of this website leaves something to be desired. However, if you are patient enough to click through multiple directories, you will find a great deal of information on all sorts of slithery or scaly creatures.
Silencing Genomes ★★★★
+ Beautiful site, free worm strain order form
– Can’t navigate site using “back” button
RNA interference (RNAi) was a revolutionary method to manipulate gene expression, and it is routinely employed by laboratories around the world. With the help of the Silencing Genomes website by the Cold Spring Harbor, science teachers can now easily bring this technology into their classrooms. The website provides complete laboratory protocols—including background information and reagent recipes—and accompanying student question sheets for a series of classroom experiments that explore the use of RNAi in C. elegans. There are seven experimental modules in total, including observing and culturing C. elegans, inducing RNAi by feeding, and creating an RNAi feeding strain. As if these teacher resources weren’t enough, the site also has a “strain order” page on which teachers can request (for free!) up to ten different C. elegans strains to use in their classroom experiments.
Bioinformatics Organization ★★★★
+ Diverse resources for beginners and experts
Whether you are a researcher who regularly relies upon bioinformatics, or you have no idea what “bioinformatics” is, the website of the authoritative-sounding Bioinformatics Organization will surely be a great resource for you. For the neophytes out there, the wiki page on the site provides a general introduction to, and answers general questions about, the field of bioinformatics. The pros, meanwhile, can take advantage of online analysis tools developed by the group such as PrimerX, a program to automate the design of mutagenic PCR primers. Additionally, the site includes online databases, forums, and a vast array of software development projects. Anybody can become a basic member of the organization for free (and at more than 34,000 members, the group seems to be doing something right).
1000 Genomes ★★★
+ Good organization, detailed browser tutorial
It’s not uncommon to talk about the sequencing of “the human genome” (or the “your-favorite-animal genome,” for that matter); however, we of course know that there is no singular genome for any species. Thus, while one genome is good, many are better. It’s still quite expensive to perform deep sequencing of whole human genomes, but that didn’t stop the people behind the 1000 Genomes Project from collecting a great deal of genomic information (and in doing so, cataloguing a large degree of human genetic variation). The nicely organized 1000 Genomes Project website provides site visitors with general information about the project, project announcements, and a detailed tutorial on how to access and use the 1000 Genomes Browser. As there are enough data here to keep even the most ardent genetics junkies busy, be prepared to spend some time immersing yourself in the mysteries of human genetic variation.
Parasitology Research ★★
+ Nice links page, good photo library
– Design aesthetic, lack of photo captions
Although it may not seem like much at first glance, the parasitology research page for the Division of Biology at the University of Kansas has a way of getting under you skin. If you fancy Cryptosporidium you’ll be especially delighted, as this little guy is featured prominently on the site. However, even if you have no interest in getting to know that particular parasite, there are still many other resources to enjoy on the site. The “animal and human parasite images” page offers some amazing (and squirm-inducing) photos, although it is unfortunate that many of the photos are accompanied by little (if any) information. Another good component of the site is the “parasitology-related links” page, which provides a long list of links related to (what else?) Cryptosporidium, parasitology journals and societies, and other miscellany.
Earth’s Endangered Creatures ★★★
+ Links to conservation organizations
– Some outdated profiles
It is a well-known and sad fact that many animal species are in danger of becoming extinct. The Earth’s Endangered Creatures website is a wonderful online resource to learn about the lives (and plight) of various endangered animals. One can browse species profiles by geographic region or species group (arachnids, birds, etc.), or one can search for a specific creature by either its common or scientific name. In addition, the “featured creature” page allows you to learn about critters you may not have stumbled upon yourself. A profile page exists for many species on the site, and these profile pages include information such as geographic distribution, size, and other facts about the animals. Many of the species information pages are current; however, some of the pages haven’t been updated recently. Finally, beyond providing information about various endangered species, the website also provides a long list of links to conservation organizations so that site visitors can find volunteer or donation opportunities.