A gold standard for protein knowledge

UniProtKB/Swiss-Prot is an expertly curated and very low-redundant protein knowledgebase originally created in 1986 under the name of Swiss-Prot, and now part of the UniProt Knowledgebase which was established in 2002. Its mission is to provide the scientific community with a comprehensive, high-quality and freely accessible resource of protein sequence and knowledge. The database sums up all the available information on a given protein in a given species, such as its function, cell location, pathological role, interactions and differences with other species. All this information has been curated beforehand, i.e. sorted, structured, reviewed and validated by expert people (known as biocurators). UniProtKB/Swiss-Prot is one of the most widely used databases and is recognized today as a gold standard reference and quality gatekeeper by the international scientific community. It is used by scientists from all fields of the life sciences as well as by clinicians. It also serves as a reference for patent organizations in the field of proteins and biotherapeutics, and is used by computer scientists to benchmark their prediction programs. The database also serves as a foundation for other databases intended for more specialized audiences; an example would be the SIB NeXtProt database recently developed for clinicians.

Over the years, UniProtKB/Swiss-Prot has shown that it knows how to adjust and has evolved accordingly to fit the new needs of its users and adapt to emerging fields of research. “This capacity to adapt to the surrounding environment is one of the database’s major achievements over the last years, explains Ioannis Xenarios, Head of the Swiss-Prot group at SIB. We let the database evolve. In this way, it remains “fit” and is tailored to specific needs”.

From a one-man team to a -recognized group of biocuration experts

At SIB, Swiss-Prot was the name given to one of the 5 founding groups. Over the last three decades, this group has quite naturally changed in parallel with the database. It has adapted to times of opulence as it has reverted to less reassuring conditions. Despite this, the biocurators are still as passionate as they ever have been, as are their colleague developers, and all dedicated to preparing the best possible product. More importantly and thanks to the catalyst role of the institute, the group has become a biocuration and knowledgebase expertise asset that offers highly-qualified scientists who can advise on how to prepare a database and to what end. It also provides other national and international research groups with support on how to gather and structure knowledge on different biological data adapted to the users’ needs. “Much more than the database itself, the real asset of the SIB Swiss-Prot group for Switzerland and for the scientific community is the know-how and competences of its people,” concludes Ioannis Xenarios enthusiastically.