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Public Posting of Genetic Details Gets Boost from Open Science Movement

Two organizations promoting open access to research have announced the winner of a competition encouraging developers to create apps that make science more open. openSNP, the top winner of the Mendeley/PLoS API Binary Battle, lets users publicly share their genetic data by uploading it to the Internet. The contest was created by Mendeley, a free and premium Web site that allows users to manage their research papers, access others' research, and collaborate online, and the Public Library of Science (PLoS), a nonprofit dedicated to publishing scientific and medical research and making it available online for anybody to use.

The contest, which came with a grand prize of $10,001 and a $1,000 Amazon Web Services credit, called on developers to use application programming interfaces from one or both of the sites in an effort to extend their open research missions. Said Mike Blank, Mendeley's business development manager, that prize amount is no accident. "Zeros and ones are binary numbers, and we wanted to reinforce the 'binary battle' theme," he explained, adding, "Kinda geeky."

Finalists were judged by popular vote and a panel of tech and science experts, including Tim O'Reilly, the founder of the media company of the same name, and Werner Vogels, the chief technology officer of Amazon.com.

"I always tell developers to work on stuff that matters. It's time to stretch beyond the consumer Internet, and what better place to focus than on furthering the cutting edges of science?" said O'Reilly.

Bastian Greshake, one of the founders of openSNP, explained in an interview with Mendeley that the site's purpose is to allow customers of direct-to-consumer genetic tests to publish their results, find others with similar genetic variations, and help researchers find new associations. "We hope that this will enable crowdsourced genome wide association studies in the future," he said. "We chose to implement PLoS and Mendeley early on in the development of openSNP as both are great resources to find the latest publications on SNPs." SNPs, or single nucleotide polymorphisms, are DNA sequence variations that frequently determine an individual's predisposition to disease or response to drugs.

Runner-up PaperCritic, which won $5,000 and $500 in Amazon Web Services credit, provides a means for researchers to obtain and give feedback on their work and others' work in an open and transparent environment.

rOpenSci won a special prize for its R interfaces for both Mendeley and PLoS. R is a programming environment for statistical computing and graphics. The interfaces allow developers to access data within each site and manipulate it using R.

Some of the other finalists included:

  • Droideley, an Android mobile app for reading Mendeley contents;
  • KLEENK, a platform to help researchers make connections among articles and other resources; and
  • ReaderMeter, a proof-of-concept application that pulls together readership data to determine the relative impact of an author's published research.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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