Researchers plan to create a library of human genetics, with entries on the workings of individual genes, and make it available for anyone in Wikipedia rather than in an obscure academic format.
Authors of the "gene wiki" say they have created 7,500 Wikipedia entries on different genes and are editing another 650 already existing entries.
The group outlined its aims this week in a paper published on the Public Library of Science's online journal, PLoS Biology. The eight authors are from the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation in San Diego, San Diego State University and Washington University in St. Louis.
"With the entire community's input, we envision this gene wiki evolving into a collection of collaboratively created, continually updated, community-reviewed review articles for every gene in the human genome," the authors wrote.
Virtually anyone can edit an entry on Wikipedia, the mammoth Internet encyclopedia that was founded in 2001 and built by volunteer contributors. That could mean the gene wiki will be overwritten — with errors — by someone else who comes along.
Indeed, the scientists considered an alternative, Citizendium, whose volunteer contributors are expected to provide their real names. Citizendium asks experts in given fields to check articles for accuracy. But ultimately, the gene wiki researchers said, they chose Wikipedia because it is highly popular and the site's volunteer editors tend to quickly correct inaccuracies.
Wikipedia's de facto leader, Jimmy Wales, cheered the endorsement.
"We are very excited to see academics getting involved in Wikipedia in a systematic way, and encourage other disciplines to follow suit," he wrote in an e-mail. "I am asking our volunteers to form a welcoming committee to help with this effort."