Stable isotopes are used across a diversity of scientific fields, from ecology and physiology to medicine and archaeology, and at local and global scales. As the analysis of stable isotopes grows, the amount of data has accumulated. We estimate that >1 million samples are run each year among 12 major laboratories in the United States alone. More investigators are independently generating their own stable isotope datasets. Yet much of this data exists in unpublished formats and may never be used. At the same time, there is a growing need for not only data accessibility but also for transparency and reproducibility. Just as the growth of genetic data in the 20th century led to the development of GenBank, we are spearheading the creation of IsoBank (isobank.org) for the 21st century.
We envision IsoBank as both an aggregator and a repository of isotopic data. It is an online, openly accessible database, with isotope measurements indexed via discipline-specific metadata. When possible, data deposited in IsoBank are linked to archived samples and specimens. IsoBank will function as a universal resource, and allow scientists to verify, replicate, compare, extend, and integrate data across studies. In the same way that GenBank filled an immediate need within the field of genetics, IsoBank will consolidate and organize the broad and growing number of disciplines that have the potential to use stable isotope measurements. IsoBank should be networked internationally with core isotope laboratories, government-funded science agencies, and peer-reviewed journals to foster collaborations and ensure sustainability.
My collaborators, Drs. Seth Newsome, Brian Hayden, Gabe Bowen, and Chris Jordan, and I have been leading an interdisciplinary team of stable isotope researchers to guide product development and strategy. Meanwhile, the IsoBank website and backend database are being developed by Chris Jordan’s team at Texas Advanced Computing Center.
This work is funded by NSF Awards 1759570, 1759849, 1759937, and 1759730 (Advanced Biological Infrastructure)