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Bioinformatics, nexus of water quality & big data ecology

March 3, 2016

As the process of collecting, storing and reporting on environmental data becomes automated, organizations are allocating more attention and time to analyzing more comprehensive datasets. Consequently water quality professionals including aquatic ecologists are gaining influence in decision-making as their data drives design and implementation of better water management practices.

By focusing on sustaining long-term water supplies, proactive utilities and watershed authorities are developing new employees into bioinformaticians. As more ecological aspects of water bodies are captured and laboratory test results reviewed, you come to realize that more than spreadsheets is needed to find and investigate links among those biological observations, physical-chemical information and hydrological measurements.

Bioinformatics covers much more than routine statistics.It also includes aspects of data management (storage and retrieval), database design, and data visualization (especially important these days when trying to summarize massive data sets and highly complex analytical outcomes),” explains Michael B. Black, Ph.D. of biotechnology firm ScitoVation.

Analyzing a broader spectrum of biological data — and more importantly, connecting the dots and making sense of it — requires an arsenal of tools, which are sophisticated yet easy to use. Investing time and money has become critical to generate a deeper understanding for a range of competing priorities such as drinking water, irrigation, industry, recreation and conservation. Collaboration has become imperative to share lessons learned from testing ideas about correlation and causation.

Europeans have been addressing these issues to provide a flexible yet reliable mechanism for biological data storage, analysis and sharing among diverse stakeholders and data consumers. KISTERS has leveraged its 30-year expertise in water data management and global partnerships to make available to environmental and water resource managers what once seemed accessible only to the biotechnology sector.

The integration of an ecological module with its water quality data management system gives environmental agencies deeper integrative insight. Access descriptive metadata like taxonomies with volumes of time series data, while the interface saves bioinformaticians time as graphs, tables and map presentations help to quickly assess which trends are significant. Users are able to define an acceptable range for each parameter that denotes a healthy watershed. Alternatively users can configure alerts to notify them of data violations and/or gaps.

In an era of big data and economies of scale, the new wave of data professionals cannot afford to be distracted by the inevitably increasing demand to store information as more is imported and archived at an accelerated speed. Having a largely automated pipeline for the data analysis — or an increasing number of analysts — becomes invaluable.

Titus Brown, Ph.D. directs the Lab for Data Intensive Biology at University of California, Davis and notes that data managers are no longer trying to understand the entire data set. “You’re trying to focus on the bits that might be interesting… There’s lots of open source stuff too. Don’t reinvent wheels; figure out how to connect them to your biology, and then focus on the bits that are interesting and important for your science.”

So while you focus on ensuring clean, safe drinking water and good environmental stewardship, KISTERS resolves to concentrate on designing and maintaining robust, scalable software solutions that support you. Get further details on integrating your ecological and hydrological data.