Advanced Query Mechanisms for Biological Databases

M Markowitz Chen, I-Min A.; Kosky, Anthony; Szeto, Ernest; Topaloglou, Thodoros

Existing query interfaces for biological databases are either based on fixed forms or textual query languages. Users of a fixed form-based query interface are limited to performing some pre-defined queries providing a fixed view of the underlying database, while users of a free text query language-based interface have to understand the underlying data models, specific query languages and application schemas in order to formulate queries. Further, operations on application-specific complex data (e.g., DNA sequences, proteins), which are usually provided by a variety of software packages with their own format requirements and peculiarities, are not available as part of, nor integrated with biological query interfaces. In this paper, we describe generic tools that provide powerful and flexible support for interactively exploring biological databases in a uniform and consistent way, that is via common data models, formats, and notations, in the framework of the Object-Protocol Model (OPM). These tools include (i) a Java graphical query construction tool with support for automatic generation of Web query forms that can be either used for further specifying conditions, or can be saved and customized; (ii) query processors for interpreting and executing queries that may involve complex application-specific objects, and that could span multiple heterogeneous databases and file systems; and (iii) utilities for automatic generation of HTML pages containing query results, that can be browsed using a Web browser. These tools avoid the restrictions imposed by traditional fixed-form query interfaces, while providing users with simple and intuitive facilities for formulating ad-hoc queries across heterogeneous databases, without the need to understand the underlying data models and query languages.

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