Exploring survival

SurvCurv: the survival database at EMBL-EBI

Researchers at the EMBL-European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) have created a new resource that can help scientists study ageing. Published in the journal Aging Cell, SurvCurv is the first comprehensive, open resource to enable the large-scale analysis of survival data in model organisms.

Ageing research has been the subject of considerable work, but most survival data from these studies is inaccessible to other scientists. SurvCurv puts ageing datasets in one place to make them more useful, just as ArrayExpress does for microarray experiments.

“Having all the data in one place is much better than what we have now, where much of it is hidden in supplements or, worse, lost on people’s forgotten hard drives,” says Matthias Ziehm of EMBL-EBI. “This way, people can use SurvCurv to compare different datasets, or re-analyse them using new techniques.”

Currently, lifespan experiments are carried out in such different ways that they can be difficult to compare. The new resource could change all that, simply by offering a repository with explicit data requirements – and that would make much more data available to lifespan researchers.

Drosophila survival data is generated using a diverse set of conditions, which makes it challenging to analyse,” says Matthias. “If these experiments were systematically categorised, the data would be much more useful over time.”

“Looking to the future, we hope that SurvCurv – and the research it makes possible – will inspire a larger effort toward creating minimum standards for reporting survival data,” adds Professor Janet Thornton, Director of EMBL-EBI.

Matthias, Janet and Matthew Piper of the Institute of Healthy Ageing at University College London used SurvCurv in an experiment comparing ageing between males and females in different strains of the short-lived fruit fly.

“Because we had SurvCurv, we could analyse a very large amount of survival data in a short time,” says Matthias. “We saw clear differences between male and female survival in two different strains of Drosophila, which is helpful for researchers choosing which is best for their experiment.”

The team also revealed that one popular experimental method, which people presumed was inert, actually has an impact on survival. Janet remarks that this observation alone will improve the quality of research into ageing. “It just goes to show you the power of a really good database,” she says.

Source articles

Ziehm, M. and Thornton, J.M. (2013) Unlocking the potential of survival data for model organisms through a new database and online analysis platform: SurvCurv. Ageing Cell (in press). DOI: acel.12121.

Ziehm, M., Piper, M.D., Thornton, J.M. (2013) Analysing Variation in Drosophila ageing across independent experimental studies: a meta-analysis of survival data. Ageing Cell (in press). DOI: acel.12123.