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1.  The ontology life cycle: Integrated tools for editing, publishing, peer review, and evolution of ontologies 
Ontologies have become a critical component of many applications in biomedical informatics. However, the landscape of the ontology tools today is largely fragmented, with independent tools for ontology editing, publishing, and peer review: users develop an ontology in an ontology editor, such as Protégé; and publish it on a Web server or in an ontology library, such as BioPortal, in order to share it with the community; they use the tools provided by the library or mailing lists and bug trackers to collect feedback from users. In this paper, we present a set of tools that bring the ontology editing and publishing closer together, in an integrated platform for the entire ontology lifecycle. This integration streamlines the workflow for collaborative development and increases integration between the ontologies themselves through the reuse of terms.
PMCID: PMC3041389  PMID: 21347039
2.  Mapping between the OBO and OWL ontology languages 
Journal of Biomedical Semantics  2011;2(Suppl 1):S3.
Ontologies are commonly used in biomedicine to organize concepts to describe domains such as anatomies, environments, experiment, taxonomies etc. NCBO BioPortal currently hosts about 180 different biomedical ontologies. These ontologies have been mainly expressed in either the Open Biomedical Ontology (OBO) format or the Web Ontology Language (OWL). OBO emerged from the Gene Ontology, and supports most of the biomedical ontology content. In comparison, OWL is a Semantic Web language, and is supported by the World Wide Web consortium together with integral query languages, rule languages and distributed infrastructure for information interchange. These features are highly desirable for the OBO content as well. A convenient method for leveraging these features for OBO ontologies is by transforming OBO ontologies to OWL.
We have developed a methodology for translating OBO ontologies to OWL using the organization of the Semantic Web itself to guide the work. The approach reveals that the constructs of OBO can be grouped together to form a similar layer cake. Thus we were able to decompose the problem into two parts. Most OBO constructs have easy and obvious equivalence to a construct in OWL. A small subset of OBO constructs requires deeper consideration. We have defined transformations for all constructs in an effort to foster a standard common mapping between OBO and OWL. Our mapping produces OWL-DL, a Description Logics based subset of OWL with desirable computational properties for efficiency and correctness. Our Java implementation of the mapping is part of the official Gene Ontology project source.
Our transformation system provides a lossless roundtrip mapping for OBO ontologies, i.e. an OBO ontology may be translated to OWL and back without loss of knowledge. In addition, it provides a roadmap for bridging the gap between the two ontology languages in order to enable the use of ontology content in a language independent manner.
PMCID: PMC3105495  PMID: 21388572
3.  Building Ontologies in DAML + OIL 
In this article we describe an approach to representing and building ontologies advocated by the Bioinformatics and Medical Informatics groups at the University of Manchester. The hand-crafting of ontologies offers an easy and rapid avenue to delivering ontologies. Experience has shown that such approaches are unsustainable. Description logic approaches have been shown to offer computational support for building sound, complete and logically consistent ontologies. A new knowledge representation language, DAML + OIL, offers a new standard that is able to support many styles of ontology, from hand-crafted to full logic-based descriptions with reasoning support. We describe this language, the OilEd editing tool, reasoning support and a strategy for the language’s use. We finish with a current example, in the Gene Ontology Next Generation (GONG) project, that uses DAML + OIL as the basis for moving the Gene Ontology from its current hand-crafted, form to one that uses logical descriptions of a concept’s properties to deliver a more complete version of the ontology.
PMCID: PMC2447401  PMID: 18629114
4.  The National Center for Biomedical Ontology 
The National Center for Biomedical Ontology is now in its seventh year. The goals of this National Center for Biomedical Computing are to: create and maintain a repository of biomedical ontologies and terminologies; build tools and web services to enable the use of ontologies and terminologies in clinical and translational research; educate their trainees and the scientific community broadly about biomedical ontology and ontology-based technology and best practices; and collaborate with a variety of groups who develop and use ontologies and terminologies in biomedicine. The centerpiece of the National Center for Biomedical Ontology is a web-based resource known as BioPortal. BioPortal makes available for research in computationally useful forms more than 270 of the world's biomedical ontologies and terminologies, and supports a wide range of web services that enable investigators to use the ontologies to annotate and retrieve data, to generate value sets and special-purpose lexicons, and to perform advanced analytics on a wide range of biomedical data.
PMCID: PMC3277625  PMID: 22081220
Collaborative technologies; knowledge representations; knowledge acquisition and knowledge management; controlled terminologies and vocabularies; ontologies; knowledge bases; applications that link biomedical knowledge from diverse primary sources (includes automated indexing); statistical analysis of large datasets; methods for integration of information from disparate sources; discovery; and text and data mining methods; automated learning; information retrieval; HIT data standards; representing; identifying; and modeling biological structures; developing and refining ehr data standards (including image standards)
5.  Anatomical ontologies: names and places in biology 
Genome Biology  2005;6(4):108.
Recently, ideas from the field of ontology have been picked up by computer scientists as a basis for encoding knowledge and with the hope of achieving interoperability and intelligent system behavior. The use of anatomy ontologies to represent space in biological organisms, specifically mouse and human are reviewed here.
Ontology has long been the preserve of philosophers and logicians. Recently, ideas from this field have been picked up by computer scientists as a basis for encoding knowledge and with the hope of achieving interoperability and intelligent system behavior. In bioinformatics, ontologies might allow hitherto impossible query and data-mining activities. We review the use of anatomy ontologies to represent space in biological organisms, specifically mouse and human.
PMCID: PMC1088950  PMID: 15833128
6.  Understanding and using the meaning of statements in a bio-ontology: recasting the Gene Ontology in OWL 
BMC Bioinformatics  2007;8:57.
The bio-ontology community falls into two camps: first we have biology domain experts, who actually hold the knowledge we wish to capture in ontologies; second, we have ontology specialists, who hold knowledge about techniques and best practice on ontology development. In the bio-ontology domain, these two camps have often come into conflict, especially where pragmatism comes into conflict with perceived best practice. One of these areas is the insistence of computer scientists on a well-defined semantic basis for the Knowledge Representation language being used. In this article, we will first describe why this community is so insistent. Second, we will illustrate this by examining the semantics of the Web Ontology Language and the semantics placed on the Directed Acyclic Graph as used by the Gene Ontology. Finally we will reconcile the two representations, including the broader Open Biomedical Ontologies format. The ability to exchange between the two representations means that we can capitalise on the features of both languages. Such utility can only arise by the understanding of the semantics of the languages being used. By this illustration of the usefulness of a clear, well-defined language semantics, we wish to promote a wider understanding of the computer science perspective amongst potential users within the biological community.
PMCID: PMC1819394  PMID: 17311682
7.  The Chemical Information Ontology: Provenance and Disambiguation for Chemical Data on the Biological Semantic Web 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(10):e25513.
Cheminformatics is the application of informatics techniques to solve chemical problems in silico. There are many areas in biology where cheminformatics plays an important role in computational research, including metabolism, proteomics, and systems biology. One critical aspect in the application of cheminformatics in these fields is the accurate exchange of data, which is increasingly accomplished through the use of ontologies. Ontologies are formal representations of objects and their properties using a logic-based ontology language. Many such ontologies are currently being developed to represent objects across all the domains of science. Ontologies enable the definition, classification, and support for querying objects in a particular domain, enabling intelligent computer applications to be built which support the work of scientists both within the domain of interest and across interrelated neighbouring domains. Modern chemical research relies on computational techniques to filter and organise data to maximise research productivity. The objects which are manipulated in these algorithms and procedures, as well as the algorithms and procedures themselves, enjoy a kind of virtual life within computers. We will call these information entities. Here, we describe our work in developing an ontology of chemical information entities, with a primary focus on data-driven research and the integration of calculated properties (descriptors) of chemical entities within a semantic web context. Our ontology distinguishes algorithmic, or procedural information from declarative, or factual information, and renders of particular importance the annotation of provenance to calculated data. The Chemical Information Ontology is being developed as an open collaborative project. More details, together with a downloadable OWL file, are available at (license: CC-BY-SA).
PMCID: PMC3184996  PMID: 21991315
8.  Semantics in Support of Biodiversity Knowledge Discovery: An Introduction to the Biological Collections Ontology and Related Ontologies 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e89606.
The study of biodiversity spans many disciplines and includes data pertaining to species distributions and abundances, genetic sequences, trait measurements, and ecological niches, complemented by information on collection and measurement protocols. A review of the current landscape of metadata standards and ontologies in biodiversity science suggests that existing standards such as the Darwin Core terminology are inadequate for describing biodiversity data in a semantically meaningful and computationally useful way. Existing ontologies, such as the Gene Ontology and others in the Open Biological and Biomedical Ontologies (OBO) Foundry library, provide a semantic structure but lack many of the necessary terms to describe biodiversity data in all its dimensions. In this paper, we describe the motivation for and ongoing development of a new Biological Collections Ontology, the Environment Ontology, and the Population and Community Ontology. These ontologies share the aim of improving data aggregation and integration across the biodiversity domain and can be used to describe physical samples and sampling processes (for example, collection, extraction, and preservation techniques), as well as biodiversity observations that involve no physical sampling. Together they encompass studies of: 1) individual organisms, including voucher specimens from ecological studies and museum specimens, 2) bulk or environmental samples (e.g., gut contents, soil, water) that include DNA, other molecules, and potentially many organisms, especially microbes, and 3) survey-based ecological observations. We discuss how these ontologies can be applied to biodiversity use cases that span genetic, organismal, and ecosystem levels of organization. We argue that if adopted as a standard and rigorously applied and enriched by the biodiversity community, these ontologies would significantly reduce barriers to data discovery, integration, and exchange among biodiversity resources and researchers.
PMCID: PMC3940615  PMID: 24595056
9.  Semantic SenseLab: implementing the vision of the Semantic Web in neuroscience 
Integrative neuroscience research needs a scalable informatics framework that enables semantic integration of diverse types of neuroscience data. This paper describes the use of the Web Ontology Language (OWL) and other Semantic Web technologies for the representation and integration of molecular-level data provided by several of SenseLab suite of neuroscience databases.
Based on the original database structure, we semi-automatically translated the databases into OWL ontologies with manual addition of semantic enrichment. The SenseLab ontologies are extensively linked to other biomedical Semantic Web resources, including the Subcellular Anatomy Ontology, Brain Architecture Management System, the Gene Ontology, BIRNLex and UniProt. The SenseLab ontologies have also been mapped to the Basic Formal Ontology and Relation Ontology, which helps ease interoperability with many other existing and future biomedical ontologies for the Semantic Web. In addition, approaches to representing contradictory research statements are described. The SenseLab ontologies are designed for use on the Semantic Web that enables their integration into a growing collection of biomedical information resources.
We demonstrate that our approach can yield significant potential benefits and that the Semantic Web is rapidly becoming mature enough to realize its anticipated promises. The ontologies are available online at
PMCID: PMC3131218  PMID: 20006477
Semantic Web; neuroscience; description logic; ontology mapping; Web Ontology Language; integration
10.  NCBO Resource Index: Ontology-Based Search and Mining of Biomedical Resources 
Web semantics (Online)  2011;9(3):316-324.
The volume of publicly available data in biomedicine is constantly increasing. However, these data are stored in different formats and on different platforms. Integrating these data will enable us to facilitate the pace of medical discoveries by providing scientists with a unified view of this diverse information. Under the auspices of the National Center for Biomedical Ontology (NCBO), we have developed the Resource Index—a growing, large-scale ontology-based index of more than twenty heterogeneous biomedical resources. The resources come from a variety of repositories maintained by organizations from around the world. We use a set of over 200 publicly available ontologies contributed by researchers in various domains to annotate the elements in these resources. We use the semantics that the ontologies encode, such as different properties of classes, the class hierarchies, and the mappings between ontologies, in order to improve the search experience for the Resource Index user. Our user interface enables scientists to search the multiple resources quickly and efficiently using domain terms, without even being aware that there is semantics “under the hood.”
PMCID: PMC3170774  PMID: 21918645
semantic Web; ontology-based indexing; semantic annotation; data integration; information mining; information retrieval; biomedical data; biomedical ontologies
11.  Strengths and limitations of formal ontologies in the biomedical domain 
We propose a typology of representational artifacts for health care and life sciences domains and associate this typology with different kinds of formal ontology and logic, drawing conclusions as to the strengths and limitations for ontology of different kinds of logical resources, with a focus on description logics.
The four types of domain representation we consider are: (i) lexico-semantic representation, (ii) representation of types of entities, (iii) representations of background knowledge, and (iv) representation of individuals.
We advocate a clear distinction of the four kinds of representation in order to provide a more rational basis for using of ontologies and related artifacts to advance integration of data and interoperability of associated reasoning systems.
We highlight the fact that only a minor portion of scientifically relevant facts in a domain such as biomedicine can be adequately represented by formal ontologies when the latter are conceived as representations of entity types. In particular, the attempt to encode default or probabilistic knowledge using ontologies so conceived is prone to produce unintended, erroneous models.
PMCID: PMC2904529  PMID: 20640238
biomedical ontology; description logic; formal ontology; knowledge representation
12.  LexGrid: A Framework for Representing, Storing, and Querying Biomedical Terminologies from Simple to Sublime 
Many biomedical terminologies, classifications, and ontological resources such as the NCI Thesaurus (NCIT), International Classification of Diseases (ICD), Systematized Nomenclature of Medicine (SNOMED), Current Procedural Terminology (CPT), and Gene Ontology (GO) have been developed and used to build a variety of IT applications in biology, biomedicine, and health care settings. However, virtually all these resources involve incompatible formats, are based on different modeling languages, and lack appropriate tooling and programming interfaces (APIs) that hinder their wide-scale adoption and usage in a variety of application contexts. The Lexical Grid (LexGrid) project introduced in this paper is an ongoing community-driven initiative, coordinated by the Mayo Clinic Division of Biomedical Statistics and Informatics, designed to bridge this gap using a common terminology model called the LexGrid model. The key aspect of the model is to accommodate multiple vocabulary and ontology distribution formats and support of multiple data stores for federated vocabulary distribution. The model provides a foundation for building consistent and standardized APIs to access multiple vocabularies that support lexical search queries, hierarchy navigation, and a rich set of features such as recursive subsumption (e.g., get all the children of the concept penicillin). Existing LexGrid implementations include the LexBIG API as well as a reference implementation of the HL7 Common Terminology Services (CTS) specification providing programmatic access via Java, Web, and Grid services.
PMCID: PMC2732233  PMID: 19261933
13.  Hematopoietic Cell Types: Prototype for a Revised Cell Ontology 
The Cell Ontology (CL) aims for the representation of in vivo and in vitro cell types from all of biology. The CL is a candidate reference ontology of the OBO Foundry and requires extensive revision to bring it up to current standards for biomedical ontologies, both in its structure and its coverage of various subfields of biology. We have now addressed the specific content of one area of the CL, the section of the ontology dealing with hematopoietic cells. This section has been extensively revised to improve its content and eliminate multiple inheritance in the asserted hierarchy, and the groundwork was laid for structuring the hematopoietic cell type terms as cross-products incorporating logical definitions built from relationships to external ontologies, such as the Protein Ontology and the Gene Ontology. The methods and improvements to the CL in this area represent a paradigm for improvement of the entire ontology over time.
PMCID: PMC2892030  PMID: 20123131
ontology; hematopoietic cells; immunology
14.  NanoParticle Ontology for Cancer Nanotechnology Research 
Data generated from cancer nanotechnology research are so diverse and large in volume that it is difficult to share and efficiently use them without informatics tools. In particular, ontologies that provide a unifying knowledge framework for annotating the data are required to facilitate the semantic integration, knowledge-based searching, unambiguous interpretation, mining and inferencing of the data using informatics methods. In this paper, we discuss the design and development of NanoParticle Ontology (NPO), which is developed within the framework of the Basic Formal Ontology (BFO), and implemented in the Ontology Web Language (OWL) using well-defined ontology design principles. The NPO was developed to represent knowledge underlying the preparation, chemical composition, and characterization of nanomaterials involved in cancer research. Public releases of the NPO are available through BioPortal website, maintained by the National Center for Biomedical Ontology. Mechanisms for editorial and governance processes are being developed for the maintenance, review, and growth of the NPO.
PMCID: PMC3042056  PMID: 20211274
ontology; cancer; nanotechnology; nanoparticle; nanomaterial; informatics; NPO; BFO; annotation; BioPortal
15.  Semantic integration of physiology phenotypes with an application to the Cellular Phenotype Ontology 
Bioinformatics  2012;28(13):1783-1789.
Motivation: The systematic observation of phenotypes has become a crucial tool of functional genomics, and several large international projects are currently underway to identify and characterize the phenotypes that are associated with genotypes in several species. To integrate phenotype descriptions within and across species, phenotype ontologies have been developed. Applying ontologies to unify phenotype descriptions in the domain of physiology has been a particular challenge due to the high complexity of the underlying domain.
Results: In this study, we present the outline of a theory and its implementation for an ontology of physiology-related phenotypes. We provide a formal description of process attributes and relate them to the attributes of their temporal parts and participants. We apply our theory to create the Cellular Phenotype Ontology (CPO). The CPO is an ontology of morphological and physiological phenotypic characteristics of cells, cell components and cellular processes. Its prime application is to provide terms and uniform definition patterns for the annotation of cellular phenotypes. The CPO can be used for the annotation of observed abnormalities in domains, such as systems microscopy, in which cellular abnormalities are observed and for which no phenotype ontology has been created.
Availability and implementation: The CPO and the source code we generated to create the CPO are freely available on
Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
PMCID: PMC3381966  PMID: 22539675
16.  Development and Evaluation of an Ontology for Guiding Appropriate Antibiotic Prescribing 
Journal of Biomedical Informatics  2011;45(1):120-128.
To develop and apply formal ontology creation methods to the domain of antimicrobial prescribing and to formally evaluate the resulting ontology through intrinsic and extrinsic evaluation studies.
We extended existing ontology development methods to create the ontology and implemented the ontology using Protégé-OWL. Correctness of the ontology was assessed using a set of ontology design principles and domain expert review via the laddering technique. We created three artifacts to support the extrinsic evaluation (set of prescribing rules, alerts and an ontology-driven alert module, and a patient database) and evaluated the usefulness of the ontology for performing knowledge management tasks to maintain the ontology and for generating alerts to guide antibiotic prescribing.
The ontology includes 199 classes, 10 properties, and 1,636 description logic restrictions. Twenty-three Semantic Web Rule Language rules were written to generate three prescribing alerts: 1) antibiotic-microorganism mismatch alert; 2) medication-allergy alert; and 3) non-recommended empiric antibiotic therapy alert. The evaluation studies confirmed the correctness of the ontology, usefulness of the ontology for representing and maintaining antimicrobial treatment knowledge rules, and usefulness of the ontology for generating alerts to provide feedback to clinicians during antibiotic prescribing.
This study contributes to the understanding of ontology development and evaluation methods and addresses one knowledge gap related to using ontologies as a clinical decision support system component—a need for formal ontology evaluation methods to measure their quality from the perspective of their intrinsic characteristics and their usefulness for specific tasks.
PMCID: PMC3272092  PMID: 22019377
Ontology; Clinical decision support; Evaluation
17.  Towards improving phenotype representation in OWL 
Journal of Biomedical Semantics  2012;3(Suppl 2):S5.
Phenotype ontologies are used in species-specific databases for the annotation of mutagenesis experiments and to characterize human diseases. The Entity-Quality (EQ) formalism is a means to describe complex phenotypes based on one or more affected entities and a quality. EQ-based definitions have been developed for many phenotype ontologies, including the Human and Mammalian Phenotype ontologies.
We analyze formalizations of complex phenotype descriptions in the Web Ontology Language (OWL) that are based on the EQ model, identify several representational challenges and analyze potential solutions to address these challenges.
In particular, we suggest a novel, role-based approach to represent relational qualities such as concentration of iron in spleen, discuss its ontological foundation in the General Formal Ontology (GFO) and evaluate its representation in OWL and the benefits it can bring to the representation of phenotype annotations.
Our analysis of OWL-based representations of phenotypes can contribute to improving consistency and expressiveness of formal phenotype descriptions.
PMCID: PMC3448528  PMID: 23046625
18.  Bringing Ontology to the Gene Ontology 
We present an analysis of some considerations involved in expressing the Gene Ontology (GO) as a machine-processible ontology, reflecting principles of formal ontology. GO is a controlled vocabulary that is intended to facilitate communication between biologists by standardizing usage of terms in database annotations. Making such controlled vocabularies maximally useful in support of bioinformatics applications requires explicating in machine-processible form the implicit background information that enables human users to interpret the meaning of the vocabulary terms. In the case of GO, this process would involve rendering the meanings of GO into a formal (logical) language with the help of domain experts, and adding additional information required to support the chosen formalization. A controlled vocabulary augmented in these ways is commonly called an ontology. In this paper, we make a modest exploration to determine the ontological requirements for this extended version of GO. Using the terms within the three GO hierarchies (molecular function, biological process and cellular component), we investigate the facility with which GO concepts can be ontologized, using available tools from the philosophical and ontological engineering literature.
PMCID: PMC2447385  PMID: 18629099
19.  How to link ontologies and protein–protein interactions to literature: text-mining approaches and the BioCreative experience 
There is an increasing interest in developing ontologies and controlled vocabularies to improve the efficiency and consistency of manual literature curation, to enable more formal biocuration workflow results and ultimately to improve analysis of biological data. Two ontologies that have been successfully used for this purpose are the Gene Ontology (GO) for annotating aspects of gene products and the Molecular Interaction ontology (PSI-MI) used by databases that archive protein–protein interactions. The examination of protein interactions has proven to be extremely promising for the understanding of cellular processes. Manual mapping of information from the biomedical literature to bio-ontology terms is one of the most challenging components in the curation pipeline. It requires that expert curators interpret the natural language descriptions contained in articles and infer their semantic equivalents in the ontology (controlled vocabulary). Since manual curation is a time-consuming process, there is strong motivation to implement text-mining techniques to automatically extract annotations from free text. A range of text mining strategies has been devised to assist in the automated extraction of biological data. These strategies either recognize technical terms used recurrently in the literature and propose them as candidates for inclusion in ontologies, or retrieve passages that serve as evidential support for annotating an ontology term, e.g. from the PSI-MI or GO controlled vocabularies. Here, we provide a general overview of current text-mining methods to automatically extract annotations of GO and PSI-MI ontology terms in the context of the BioCreative (Critical Assessment of Information Extraction Systems in Biology) challenge. Special emphasis is given to protein–protein interaction data and PSI-MI terms referring to interaction detection methods.
PMCID: PMC3309177  PMID: 22438567
20.  The use of concept maps during knowledge elicitation in ontology development processes – the nutrigenomics use case 
BMC Bioinformatics  2006;7:267.
Incorporation of ontologies into annotations has enabled 'semantic integration' of complex data, making explicit the knowledge within a certain field. One of the major bottlenecks in developing bio-ontologies is the lack of a unified methodology. Different methodologies have been proposed for different scenarios, but there is no agreed-upon standard methodology for building ontologies. The involvement of geographically distributed domain experts, the need for domain experts to lead the design process, the application of the ontologies and the life cycles of bio-ontologies are amongst the features not considered by previously proposed methodologies.
Here, we present a methodology for developing ontologies within the biological domain. We describe our scenario, competency questions, results and milestones for each methodological stage. We introduce the use of concept maps during knowledge acquisition phases as a feasible transition between domain expert and knowledge engineer.
The contributions of this paper are the thorough description of the steps we suggest when building an ontology, example use of concept maps, consideration of applicability to the development of lower-level ontologies and application to decentralised environments. We have found that within our scenario conceptual maps played an important role in the development process.
PMCID: PMC1524992  PMID: 16725019
21.  Accommodating Ontologies to Biological Reality—Top-Level Categories of Cumulative-Constitutively Organized Material Entities 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(1):e30004.
The Basic Formal Ontology (BFO) is a top-level formal foundational ontology for the biomedical domain. It has been developed with the purpose to serve as an ontologically consistent template for top-level categories of application oriented and domain reference ontologies within the Open Biological and Biomedical Ontologies Foundry (OBO). BFO is important for enabling OBO ontologies to facilitate in reliably communicating and managing data and metadata within and across biomedical databases. Following its intended single inheritance policy, BFO's three top-level categories of material entity (i.e. ‘object’, ‘fiat object part’, ‘object aggregate’) must be exhaustive and mutually disjoint. We have shown elsewhere that for accommodating all types of constitutively organized material entities, BFO must be extended by additional categories of material entity.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Unfortunately, most biomedical material entities are cumulative-constitutively organized. We show that even the extended BFO does not exhaustively cover cumulative-constitutively organized material entities. We provide examples from biology and everyday life that demonstrate the necessity for ‘portion of matter’ as another material building block. This implies the necessity for further extending BFO by ‘portion of matter’ as well as three additional categories that possess portions of matter as aggregate components. These extensions are necessary if the basic assumption that all parts that share the same granularity level exhaustively sum to the whole should also apply to cumulative-constitutively organized material entities. By suggesting a notion of granular representation we provide a way to maintain the single inheritance principle when dealing with cumulative-constitutively organized material entities.
We suggest to extend BFO to incorporate additional categories of material entity and to rearrange its top-level material entity taxonomy. With these additions and the notion of granular representation, BFO would exhaustively cover all top-level types of material entities that application oriented ontologies may use as templates, while still maintaining the single inheritance principle.
PMCID: PMC3253816  PMID: 22253856
22.  Logical Gene Ontology Annotations (GOAL): exploring gene ontology annotations with OWL 
Journal of Biomedical Semantics  2012;3(Suppl 1):S3.
Ontologies such as the Gene Ontology (GO) and their use in annotations make cross species comparisons of genes possible, along with a wide range of other analytical activities. The bio-ontologies community, in particular the Open Biomedical Ontologies (OBO) community, have provided many other ontologies and an increasingly large volume of annotations of gene products that can be exploited in query and analysis. As many annotations with different ontologies centre upon gene products, there is a possibility to explore gene products through multiple ontological perspectives at the same time. Questions could be asked that link a gene product’s function, process, cellular location, phenotype and disease. Current tools, such as AmiGO, allow exploration of genes based on their GO annotations, but not through multiple ontological perspectives. In addition, the semantics of these ontology’s representations should be able to, through automated reasoning, afford richer query opportunities of the gene product annotations than is currently possible.
To do this multi-perspective, richer querying of gene product annotations, we have created the Logical Gene Ontology, or GOAL ontology, in OWL that combines the Gene Ontology, Human Disease Ontology and the Mammalian Phenotype Ontology, together with classes that represent the annotations with these ontologies for mouse gene products. Each mouse gene product is represented as a class, with the appropriate relationships to the GO aspects, phenotype and disease with which it has been annotated. We then use defined classes to query these protein classes through automated reasoning, and to build a complex hierarchy of gene products. We have presented this through a Web interface that allows arbitrary queries to be constructed and the results displayed.
This standard use of OWL affords a rich interaction with Gene Ontology, Human Disease Ontology and Mammalian Phenotype Ontology annotations for the mouse, to give a fine partitioning of the gene products in the GOAL ontology. OWL in combination with automated reasoning can be effectively used to query across ontologies to ask biologically rich questions. We have demonstrated that automated reasoning can be used to deliver practical on-line querying support for the ontology annotations available for the mouse.
The GOAL Web page is to be found at
PMCID: PMC3337258  PMID: 22541594
23.  Representing default knowledge in biomedical ontologies: application to the integration of anatomy and phenotype ontologies 
BMC Bioinformatics  2007;8:377.
Current efforts within the biomedical ontology community focus on achieving interoperability between various biomedical ontologies that cover a range of diverse domains. Achieving this interoperability will contribute to the creation of a rich knowledge base that can be used for querying, as well as generating and testing novel hypotheses. The OBO Foundry principles, as applied to a number of biomedical ontologies, are designed to facilitate this interoperability. However, semantic extensions are required to meet the OBO Foundry interoperability goals. Inconsistencies may arise when ontologies of properties – mostly phenotype ontologies – are combined with ontologies taking a canonical view of a domain – such as many anatomical ontologies. Currently, there is no support for a correct and consistent integration of such ontologies.
We have developed a methodology for accurately representing canonical domain ontologies within the OBO Foundry. This is achieved by adding an extension to the semantics for relationships in the biomedical ontologies that allows for treating canonical information as default. Conclusions drawn from default knowledge may be revoked when additional information becomes available. We show how this extension can be used to achieve interoperability between ontologies, and further allows for the inclusion of more knowledge within them. We apply the formalism to ontologies of mouse anatomy and mammalian phenotypes in order to demonstrate the approach.
Biomedical ontologies require a new class of relations that can be used in conjunction with default knowledge, thereby extending those currently in use. The inclusion of default knowledge is necessary in order to ensure interoperability between ontologies.
PMCID: PMC2180186  PMID: 17925014
24.  Alignment of the UMLS semantic network with BioTop: methodology and assessment 
Bioinformatics  2009;25(12):i69-i76.
Motivation: For many years, the Unified Medical Language System (UMLS) semantic network (SN) has been used as an upper-level semantic framework for the categorization of terms from terminological resources in biomedicine. BioTop has recently been developed as an upper-level ontology for the biomedical domain. In contrast to the SN, it is founded upon strict ontological principles, using OWL DL as a formal representation language, which has become standard in the semantic Web. In order to make logic-based reasoning available for the resources annotated or categorized with the SN, a mapping ontology was developed aligning the SN with BioTop.
Methods: The theoretical foundations and the practical realization of the alignment are being described, with a focus on the design decisions taken, the problems encountered and the adaptations of BioTop that became necessary. For evaluation purposes, UMLS concept pairs obtained from MEDLINE abstracts by a named entity recognition system were tested for possible semantic relationships. Furthermore, all semantic-type combinations that occur in the UMLS Metathesaurus were checked for satisfiability.
Results: The effort-intensive alignment process required major design changes and enhancements of BioTop and brought up several design errors that could be fixed. A comparison between a human curator and the ontology yielded only a low agreement. Ontology reasoning was also used to successfully identify 133 inconsistent semantic-type combinations.
Availability: BioTop, the OWL DL representation of the UMLS SN, and the mapping ontology are available at
PMCID: PMC2687948  PMID: 19478019
25.  OnEX: Exploring changes in life science ontologies 
BMC Bioinformatics  2009;10:250.
Numerous ontologies have recently been developed in life sciences to support a consistent annotation of biological objects, such as genes or proteins. These ontologies underlie continuous changes which can impact existing annotations. Therefore, it is valuable for users of ontologies to study the stability of ontologies and to see how many and what kind of ontology changes occurred.
We present OnEX (Ontology Evolution EXplorer) a system for exploring ontology changes. Currently, OnEX provides access to about 560 versions of 16 well-known life science ontologies. The system is based on a three-tier architecture including an ontology version repository, a middleware component and the OnEX web application. Interactive workflows allow a systematic and explorative change analysis of ontologies and their concepts as well as the semi-automatic migration of out-dated annotations to the current version of an ontology.
OnEX provides a user-friendly web interface to explore information about changes in current life science ontologies. It is available at .
PMCID: PMC2746816  PMID: 19678926

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