Background: For omics experiments, detailed characterisation of experimental material with respect to its genetic features, its cultivation history and its treatment history is a requirement for analyses by bioinformatics tools and for publication needs. Furthermore, meta-analysis of several experiments in systems biology based approaches make it necessary to store this information in a standardised manner, preferentially in relational databases. In the Golm Plant Database System, we devised a data management system based on a classical Laboratory Information Management System combined with web-based user interfaces for data entry and retrieval to collect this information in an academic environment.
Results: The database system contains modules representing the genetic features of the germplasm, the experimental conditions and the sampling details. In the germplasm module, genetically identical lines of biological material are generated by defined workflows, starting with the import workflow, followed by further workflows like genetic modification (transformation), vegetative or sexual reproduction. The latter workflows link lines and thus create pedigrees. For experiments, plant objects are generated from plant lines and united in so-called cultures, to which the cultivation conditions are linked. Materials and methods for each cultivation step are stored in a separate ACCESS database of the plant cultivation unit. For all cultures and thus every plant object, each cultivation site and the culture's arrival time at a site are logged by a barcode-scanner based system. Thus, for each plant object, all site-related parameters, e. g. automatically logged climate data, are available. These life history data and genetic information for the plant objects are linked to analytical results by the sampling module, which links sample components to plant object identifiers. This workflow uses controlled vocabulary for organs and treatments. Unique names generated by the system and barcode labels facilitate identification and management of the material. Web pages are provided as user interfaces to facilitate maintaining the system in an environment with many desktop computers and a rapidly changing user community. Web based search tools are the basis for joint use of the material by all researchers of the institute.
Conclusion: The Golm Plant Database system, which is based on a relational database, collects the genetic and environmental information on plant material during its production or experimental use at the Max-Planck-Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology. It thus provides information according to the MIAME standard for the component 'Sample' in a highly standardised format. The Plant Database system thus facilitates collaborative work and allows efficient queries in data analysis for systems biology research.