The Information Explosion And The World Wide

New developments in commercial biosynthesis and environmental bioremediation are certain to emanate from a wider availability of information on microbial biocatalysis and biodegradation. Because the number of chemical substances subjected to microbial catabolism is large (106107), a comparably large number of distinct enzymes and pathways must occur in nature. The vast majority have not yet been studied, in contrast to the better-characterized enzymes and pathways in common intermediary metabolism. Information on these reactions or pathways is not typically available in biochemistry or microbiology textbooks.

The increasing desire for this information has led to a virtual explosion of information published in journals, specialty books, and symposium proceedings over the past 2 years. There are also sources that contain extensive information but that are less readily available, for example, technical reports of government agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The information retrieval problem is exacerbated by the different clientele for this information, including microbiologists, chemists, chemical engineers, and civil engineers. Most of these groups do not routinely survey the same publications and are accustomed to somewhat different presentations of the relevant data.

The rapid growth of the World Wide Web (WWW or Web) offers a way to overcome availability, outdatedness, and inconsistency problems because it can provide timely access to large amounts of appropriate, consistently formatted information. The Web builds on the success of the Internet, a collection of thousands of linked computer networks. Since the Internet's beginnings in the early 1970s, many scientists have used electronic mail as a very effective way to convey information. In January 1998, the Internet had approximately 30 million hosts (5), and its use is still growing rapidly.

In 1991, a client/server software system called Gopher was developed to allow individual client computers to access textual information on the computer networks of the Internet. Gopher, developed at the University of Minnesota, appears to be a hierarchical text database that allows the user to "go fer" (look for) Internet resources on various topics and display them on even a modest computer. The World Wide Web, developed shortly thereafter at the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, combines graphics with text and allows for links between related Internet resources. For example, clicking on a highlighted or underlined term transports the user to the designated Internet resource, which can be on a server housed anywhere in the world.

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