Background: Currently, most genome annotation is curated by centralized groups with limited resources. Efforts to share annotations transparently among multiple groups have not yet been satisfactory.
Results: Here we introduce a concept called the Distributed Annotation System (DAS). DAS allows sequence annotations to be decentralized among multiple third-party annotators and integrated on an as-needed basis by client-side software. The communication between client and servers in DAS is defined by the DAS XML specification. Annotations are displayed in layers, one per server. Any client or server adhering to the DAS XML specification can participate in the system; we describe a simple prototype client and server example.
Conclusions: The DAS specification is being used experimentally by Ensembl, WormBase, and the Berkeley Drosophila Genome Project. Continued success will depend on the readiness of the research community to adopt DAS and provide annotations. All components are freely available from the project website http://www.biodas.org/.