The Helmholtz Network for Bioinformatics is a user-friendly web interface for integrating complex bioinformatics tasks. It is a joint venture of leading German bioinformatics research groups and offers convenient access to numerous bioinformatics resources through a single web portal.

Our novel user interface focusses on problem and task oriented approaches, in an effort to overcome the common disadvantages of typical tool oriented web interfaces.

In the problem oriented approach the user is guided by a detailed, tree-like questionnaire ('Guided Tool Finder') towards tools suitable for solving specific problems. This approach does not require any previous knowledge of the available tools and allows our users to concentrate entirely on describing their problems. Furthermore, many HNB tools have been pre-configured with problem-specific optimal parameters to prevent novices from being confused by too many adjustable program parameters.

The task oriented approach is meant for solving more advanced biological problems that often require the interplay of more than one tool. Mechanisms have been developed that allow for the integration of programs and databases into automated program cascades (or 'tasks'). With this approach, no further user interaction (i.e. for data reformatting or transfer) is required once a task has been launched.

The user's input and output data are registered in a central 'virtual user space' and stored on one of the HNB servers for a defined period of time, allowing users to easily access their own data again for re-evaluation and re-use.

Resources offered

A broad variety of programs and databases for nucleic acid and protein analysis are offered within the HNB framework, including standard bioinformatics applications like the popular HUSAR package [Senger, 1998] and SRS [Etzold, 1996] as well as more specific applications.

The three main areas the HNB focuses on are: genome analysis, protein analysis and enzymes and metabolism.

The main focus of the HNB Genome Analysis subsection is on prediction and analysis of regulatory regions in eukaryotic genomic sequences.

The focus of the HNB Protein Analysis subsection is on the prediction of protein features, taking into account the close relationship between protein structure prediction, protein family analysis and protein function prediction.

The HNB Enzymes and Metabolism subsection provides entry to the BRENDA enzyme database, a comprehensive relational database on functional and molecular information of all enzymes which are classified by the EC system of the IUBMB (International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology). The structure of the database allows to search for metabolic, kinetic, structural, medical data. The entries are linked to other major databases for proteins, genes and metabolic diseases. All information in BRENDA is referenced and linked to PubMed.


Final Remark

The HNB aims at facilitating the access to and handling of various bioinformatics resources by providing a problem and task oriented web interface that integrates many nucleic acid and protein analysis tools. Since design and realisation of this novel interface concept are still in progress, any user feedback – in particular from novice users – would be very helpful for targeting our efforts towards the right goals.