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Life Out of SequenceA Data-Driven History of Bioinformatics$
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Hallam Stevens

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780226080178

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2014

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226080345.001.0001

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Ordering Objects

Ordering Objects

(p.137) 5 Ordering Objects
Life Out of Sequence

Hallam Stevens

University of Chicago Press

This chapter explores the role of databases in scientific knowledge-making using one prominent example: GenBank. Biological databases, organized with computers, cannot be thought of as just collections. Instead, biological databases are orderings of biological materials. They provide ways of dividing up the biological world; they are tools that biologists use and interact with. Databases store information within carefully crafted digital structures. Computer databases construct orderings of scientific knowledge: they are powerful classification schemes that make some information accessible and some relationships obvious, while making other orderings and relationships less natural and familiar. Organizing and linking sequence elements in databases can be understood as a way of representing the connections between those elements in real organisms. The database becomes a digital idealization of living system, emphasizing particular relationships between particular objects.

Keywords:   Edgar F. Codd, Margaret O. Dayhoff, Atlas of Protein Sequence and Structure, GenBank, flat-file database, relational database, theoretical biology

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