Background: In many laboratories, researchers store experimental data on their own workstation using spreadsheets. However, this approach poses a number of problems, ranging from sharing issues to inefficient data-mining. Standard spreadsheets are also error-prone, as data do not undergo any validation process. To overcome spreadsheets inherent limitations, a number of proprietary systems have been developed, which laboratories need to pay expensive license fees for. Those costs are usually prohibitive for most laboratories and prevent scientists from benefiting from more sophisticated data management systems.
Results: In this paper, we propose the EnzymeTracker, a web-based laboratory information management system for sample tracking, as an open-source and flexible alternative that aims at facilitating entry, mining and sharing of experimental biological data. The EnzymeTracker features online spreadsheets and tools for monitoring numerous experiments conducted by several collaborators to identify and characterize samples. It also provides libraries of shared data such as protocols, and administration tools for data access control using OpenID and user/team management. Our system relies on a database management system for efficient data indexing and management and a user-friendly AJAX interface that can be accessed over the Internet. The EnzymeTracker facilitates data entry by dynamically suggesting entries and providing smart data-mining tools to effectively retrieve data. Our system features a number of tools to visualize and annotate experimental data, and export highly customizable reports. It also supports QR matrix barcoding to facilitate sample tracking.
Conclusions: The EnzymeTracker was designed to be easy to use and offers many benefits over spreadsheets, thus presenting the characteristics required to facilitate acceptance by the scientific community. It has been successfully used for 20 months on a daily basis by over 50 scientists. The EnzymeTracker is freely available online at http://cubique.fungalgenomics.ca/enzymedb/index.html under the GNU GPLv3 license.