01 Aug 2012

OU researchers to open up information about the natural world

Researchers at The Open University will make information about living and fossil organisms on Earth more widely accessible, as a result of a project which starts this week (1 August 2012).

The researchers, led by Dr David Morse, Senior Lecturer in Mathematics, Computing and Technology (MCT), have received £90,000 from the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) ( to help biological taxonomists build databases which catalogue millions of species of animal, plants and microorganisms.

“One of the big issues with biological taxonomy is that many of the records are ancient and only exist on paper, so you cannot just type your search query or species name into Google,” said Dr Alistair Willis, MCT. “Once this information is available online, it will be possible to monitor biodiversity and understand the relationships between species in a way that was never possible before.”

The project, entitled A Community-driven Curation Process for Taxonomic Databases, aims to improve the quality of scanned documents about living and fossil organisms. This will combine recommending new texts to users with an online process allowing taxonomists to confirm whether some scanned text has been correctly converted to digital form. The system will be implemented within the Scratchpad ( virtual research environment, a social networking framework that is widely used by practising biodiversity scientists.

The project follows on from The Open University’s research on the Automatic Biodiversity Literature Enhancement (ABLE) ( project and the Virtual Biodiversity Research and Access Network for Taxonomy (VIBRANT) ( project, both of which had the London Natural History Museum as a partner.

The project will end in June 2013.

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