Aakash Pandey has completed his undergraduate study in Biotechnology at Kathmandu University. As part of his study, he has had to frequently to search for data in particular on the agricultural sector focusing on issues such as food quality and agricultural output.
How do you define data?
Data, in my opinion, is the quantitative or numerical representation of any observation or measurement. Data on its own has little or no significance unless some useful information is extracted through analysis. It has widespread impact in our daily life with its relevance ranging from scientific discovery to policy making.
What have been the main challenges to search for data in your field of Biotechnology?
Biotechnology is a very broad field that has the potential to touch almost every aspect of our lives, be it finding cures for diseases or improving agricultural output and food quality. Obtaining accurate and reliable data is crucial for both researchers and policy makers alike. The importance of open data repositories in the field of biology has long been realized. As a result, we find several biological data repositories serving specific purposes. Among them, the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) is famous among biologists for hosting a series of databases relevant to biotechnology. Several other data repositories, each with its own specialty, exist which provide up-to-date information for the users. Although the status of data repositories is improving every year, one of the main constraints for the wide applicability of such repositories has been the lack of user-friendly interfaces and the difficulty of extracting meaningful information from the sites. The situation in Nepal is worse than the global picture as up-to-date databases related to biotechnology are close to non-existent in our country. Even those that are available are mostly paper-based. Lack of digital data repositories discourages those who seek relevant information. I did my undergraduate thesis on high altitude medicinal plants and I still remember the difficulties that our group faced for finding information about those indigenous medicinal plants.
After knowing about Nepal in Data portal, what has changed in the way you search for data in the biotechnology sector?
I was excited to know that a new initiative called ‘Nepal in Data’ was started by Bikas Udhyami. Although it is still in its infancy, it hosts data from a wide array of fields including agriculture and politics. Such initiative is encouraging from the prospects of our country, it has a long road ahead. Being a biology graduate, I was happy to see that data related to the agriculture sector is now available to a widespread audience. However, it is still hosting few data related to biotechnology, so it has not significantly changed the way I look for online information related to biotechnology. However, there are plenty of categories, which suit a wide range of audiences. Students from several fields can easily access the required data for their study through the Nepal in Data portal.
What do you see as the future role of data in the Biotechnology sector?
The biotechnology field is becoming more and more quantitative as advanced and automated experimental techniques are generating gazillions of data. Hence, saying just ‘data will be important in the future for biotechnology’ will be an understatement. Our ability to accurately obtain, store and curate the data and, extract the required information will, in fact, determine the future of this rapidly advancing field.
What message would you like to give to young people, especially to biotechnology students about data and the Nepal in Data portal?
While the situation of open and online databases in our country is grim, there are great initiatives like the Nepal in Data portal that aim to make data easily available to everyone. Archiving the data in online repositories requires lots of effort and time and hence such initiatives require quite a few helping hands. As I mentioned earlier, it is very difficult to find data and information related to biotechnology in our country. Although there are a few datasets related to agriculture, the extent of their coverage is far from what is required. However, the situation can improve if young students are forthcoming in helping initiatives like Nepal in Data to archive and curate the data related to their field with efficiency as they would be familiar with the datasets of their field.