Sci. Aging Knowl. Environ., 18 December 2002
Vol. 2002, Issue 50, p. nw167
[DOI: 10.1126/sageke.2002.50.nw167]


Paper Chase

Novel database charts path through calorie-restriction literature

Mitch Leslie;2002/50/nw167

Key Words: data mining • concept mapping • schema

With brimming bibliographies such as PubMed, papers you need are supposedly just a few clicks away--if you can find germane results amid a deluge of extraneous hits. However, relief from this headache might be here. A trailblazing database provides an intuitive, graphical way to sift scientific papers by mapping connections between studies. The database covers the calorie-restriction literature, but the same approach could work for other aging-related topics.

Literature scanners such as PubMed excel at extruding pages of hits, but they offer little guidance on how to winnow the results. "We spend billions of dollars on research and publishing but very little on making sure those research findings are accessible," says Sherrilynne Fuller, a biomedical informatics expert at the University of Washington, Seattle. Fuller and colleagues tackled the data glut by crafting Telemakus, a database named for the knowledge-seeking son of Odysseus in Greek mythology, which shepherds researchers through the data on calorie restriction. The Telemakus Web site went public last month; the Ellison Medical Foundation funded its development, and SAGE KE serves as a portal.

To search Telemakus for studies on fruit flies, click their scientific name on the list of organisms. Up pops a roster of papers. Instead of abstracts, Telemakus summarizes each paper with a chart that relates details of the experiments--including organisms involved, their sex and age, and the regimen tested--and reprints captions for tables and figures. For some papers, the chart links to the figures and tables themselves on the journal's Web site.

What makes Telemakus unique are graphics that help organize a swarm of results. Click on "Map It" to draw a concept map--a network of labeled boxes connected by lines--that ties papers together. Each label is a key word. For flies, the labels include fertility, longevity, and motor activity. Selecting the fertility box, for example, shows all the papers that probe how calorie restriction affects fly fertility. A line between boxes indicates that some articles use both key words; show this set of papers by clicking on the line. The network portrays relations between ideas, allowing researchers to focus their searches or recognize unexpected connections. So far, Telemakus holds about 75% of the primary calorie-restriction literature published since 1975, and Fuller's team is filling in the gaps as well as adding articles on other aspects of nutrition and aging.

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Well connected. To simplify searching, Telemakus spins concept maps that link related studies.

"This approach is completely original," says George Martin, editor-in-chief of SAGE KE, who encouraged the team to focus on calorie restriction because it draws a broad spectrum of researchers in the field of aging. Caleb Finch, a molecular biologist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, finds the database intriguing. He says that he imagines a similar "idea map" when he searches the literature; the database provides a concrete representation of that network. The same approach could work for any subject, says Fuller, but for the moment she and her colleagues plan to beef up Telemakus, making it tastier for researchers who are foraging for information about calorie restriction.

--Mitch Leslie

Try Telemakus here:

December 18, 2002 Citation: M. Leslie, Paper Chase. Science's SAGE KE (18 December 2002),;2002/50/nw167

Science of Aging Knowledge Environment. ISSN 1539-6150