HOW CAN THE NEW INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY HELP US GATHER, MANAGE AND DISSEMINATE INFORMATION IN PLANT PATHOLOGY?
CAB INTERNATIONAL, Wallingford, Oxfordshire OX10 8DE, UK
Background and objectives
Some examples will be used to illustrate the opportunities presented by information technology to make it easier for plant pathologists to gather, manage and disseminate information and knowledge that will advance our science.
There has been an information explosion in plant pathology. The scientific literature of our dynamic discipline is recorded and indexed by bibliographic databases such as CAB ABSTRACTS. This is done by collecting, daily, the world literature of agriculture and related disciplines - two or three mailbags every day - and identifying within this the articles relevant to plant pathology. The bibliographic data for these are captured, abstracts are prepared, and index terms added. This is a labour-intensive process, requiring highly qualified people. But the process has been transformed by the advent of IT, in managing the literature, capturing the data, and adding value through abstracting and indexing. Only by taking advantage of IT developments will such services remain competitive.
Managing information and transforming it into knowledge
Molecular databases, geographic information systems, diagnostic tools, training aids - these are just some of the ways in which IT has been used in plant pathology to manage information. Typically, the objective is to analyse information, link it with other information, and present it to the user as a convenient knowledge base, for use as a tool to take decisions or to advance knowledge. An example will be demonstrated, the Crop Protection Compendium. This is a multimedia system that combines many of these components into an integrated package. The Compendium is an initiative of an international consortium, whose purpose is to apply novel techniques to the solution of practical problems, and then to make them widely available in developed and developing countries in the cause of food security.
Disseminating the results
CD-ROM and the lnternet are currently the most powerful new technologies supporting the dissemination of technical information. They have transformed the scene so that, for example, the output of the process of gathering bibliographic information, described above, is now routinely disseminated on CD-ROM and on the Web, as well as on paper and magnetic tape. The new media also present opportunities for handling content that did not previously exist. This will be illustrated by reference to the BSPP's all-electronic journal Molecular Plant Pathology On-Line. This offers, through the Web, instant publication of refereed papers, scope for extensive electronic connections (for example with other publications), colour or moving images, and scope for tools such as the new GeneMap, which dynamically analyses and presents gene sequence data from papers in the journal. The greatest impediment to adoption of these opportunities is not technical but cultural - related to the deeply embedded systems of measuring personal and institutional success through publication in conventional outlets. Plant pathologists have an important opportunity to break this mould.