Data curation is an essential step in the management and analysis of genomic data. Curators capture, sort, tag and represent data so that it can be analysed and developed, and their work is central to the ways that biology works today. One Eagle Genomics employee is part of the 25-year history of biological curation, which is now being investigated in a Wellcome Trust-funded project by Cambridge historian of science Jenny Bangham . Jenny has just been awarded a research fellowship in “Humanities and Social Science”.
Credit: Mitch Blunt for Wellcome, CC BY
Eleanor Stanley, who today is a Scientific data and information security manager at Eagle Genomics, was one of the very first curators to work with a biological database. Fresh out of university in the early 1990s, Eleanor started work as a literature curator for FlyBase - the database that orders and collects all genetic information about the fruit fly Drosophila.
In the early 1990s, the practices of curation were almost completely new to biology, and so enterprises like FlyBase powerfully influenced the development of the curator as a new kind of biologist. Over time the field of curation has grown and “biocuration” has become recognised as a career choice for scientists. Members of the community have established the International society of Biocuration to support biocuration, allowing networking opportunities, regular news digests and access to workshops and training sessions.
Jenny is carrying out this historical project because she sees the work (and professional status) of curators as key to understanding how biology changed during the 1990s into the highly funded, sequence intensive science that today is exemplified by the work of Eagle Genomics and other organizations on the Wellcome Genome Campus. She is collecting recollections from early FlyBase workers (Eleanor included); exploring the politics, infrastructures and professional expertise produced by database technologies to investigate what difference these have made to biology and biomedicine. Many of her interviews will eventually be available for other historians to listen to at the Wellcome Library for the history of medicine in London.