TARDIS more than a time machine for data

Groundbreaking technology to securely store, transmit and share the massive amounts of raw data used in scientific research has led to several high-profile discoveries only two years after it was rolled out.

They include the secret to the activation of an enzyme, plasmin, that breaks down blood clots, the mapping of an antibacterial, PlyC, that could be a viable alternative to antibiotics, and the mechanism by which perforin, a protein vital to the immune system, destroys rogue cells in the body.

Each was supported by an innovative research data management system developed at Monash University in Melbourne.

The MyTARDIS system was devised by Monash biochemist Associate Professor Ashley Buckle in partnership with software engineer Steve Androulakis from the Monash e-Research Centre.

The programme collects and catalogues research data from, for example, the Australian Synchrotron, makes it searchable then securely transmits it back to the researcher's institution for analysis.

Buckle said the system was one of very few worldwide to address the problem of more effective management of research data: "There is an international push to make not only research findings but the supporting data publicly available.

“With MyTARDIS we are leading the pack and facilitating transparency, which will benefit research outcomes overall," Buckle said.

MyTARDIS also allows the data to be shared publicly, a cause championed by the two main funding agencies, the Australian Research Council and National Health and Medical Research Council. The PlyC, perforin and plasmin studies are among the first to be made available with full data sets for use by other scientists.

Centre Director Paul Bonnington said a deliberate embedding of software engineers with researchers ensured the input of the end-users – scientists – at every step of the development.

Currently being used by more than 10 Australian institutions, the MyTARDIS system could easily be rolled out internationally, Bonnington said.