All in one place

A new online tool allows scientists around the globe to curate publications that involve two or more living organisms of any size and from any environment.

Published data from anywhere in the world, curated by anyone in the world, on any interspecies interaction in the world. Image credit: Amy Dodd (CC BY 4.0).

The increasingly vast amount of data being produced in research communities can be difficult to manage, making it challenging for both humans and computers to organise and connect information from different sources. Currently, software tools that allow authors to curate peer-reviewed life science publications are designed solely for single species, or closely related species that do not interact.

Although most research communities are striving to make their data FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable), it is particularly difficult to curate detailed information based on interactions between two or more species (interspecies), such as pathogen-host interactions. As a result, there was a lack of tools to support multi-species interaction databases, leading to a reliance on labour-intensive curation methods.

To address this problem, Cuzick et al. used the Pathogen-Host Interactions database (PHI-base), which curates knowledge from the text, tables and figures published in over 200 journals, as a case study. A framework was developed that could capture the many observable traits (phenotype annotations) for interactions and link them directly to the combination of genotypes involved in those interactions across multiple scales – ranging from microscopic to macroscopic. This demonstrated that it was possible to build a framework of software tools to enable curation of interactions between species in more detail than had been done before.

Cuzick et al. developed an online tool called PHI-Canto that allows any researcher to curate published pathogen-host interactions between almost any known species. An ontology – a collection of concepts and their relations – was created to describe the outcomes of pathogen-host interactions in a standardised way. Additionally, a new concept called the ‘metagenotype’ was developed which represents the combination of a pathogen and a host genotype and can be easily annotated with the phenotypes arising from each interaction.

The newly curated multi-species FAIR data on pathogen-host interactions will enable researchers in different disciplines to compare and contrast interactions across species and scales. Ultimately, this will assist the development of new approaches to reduce the impact of pathogens on humans, livestock, crops and ecosystems with the aim of decreasing disease while increasing food security and biodiversity. The framework is potentially adoptable by any research community investigating interactions between species and could be adapted to explore other harmful and beneficial interspecies interactions.