DATABASES: The Globin Gang

Science  19 Jan 2001:
Vol. 291, Issue 5503, pp. 403
DOI: 10.1126/science.291.5503.403b

Researchers are fascinated by hemoglobin, the oxygen-toting protein that makes blood red, for many reasons. Mutations in the globin chains, for instance, cause some of the most common genetic diseases, such as sickle cell anemia, which afflicts over 50,000 Americans. Globins have also grabbed attention as an example of protein evolution, because they're ancient molecules shared with plants and bacteria. A site at Pennsylvania State University offers a wealth of data on globin sequences, along with a new Web tool for aligning DNA.

On their Globin Gene Server, Penn State biochemist Ross Hardison, computer scientist Webb Miller, and collaborators are converting two books of the 1000-some known human globin mutations into databases. The globin library can be searched by various fields (such as specific mutation or phenotype) and links to MEDLINE abstracts. Another database holds experimental results from 50 research papers on globin regulation. Users can also see how human globins align with those of several mammals.

The Penn State team also recently unveiled a Web tool called PipMaker for comparing DNA sequences. “One of the beautiful aspects,” says Hardison, is that PipMaker can align much longer sequences (up to 2 million bases) than most such tools can handle.

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