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1.  linkedISA: semantic representation of ISA-Tab experimental metadata 
BMC Bioinformatics  2014;15(Suppl 14):S4.
Reporting and sharing experimental metadata- such as the experimental design, characteristics of the samples, and procedures applied, along with the analysis results, in a standardised manner ensures that datasets are comprehensible and, in principle, reproducible, comparable and reusable. Furthermore, sharing datasets in formats designed for consumption by humans and machines will also maximize their use. The Investigation/Study/Assay (ISA) open source metadata tracking framework facilitates standards-compliant collection, curation, visualization, storage and sharing of datasets, leveraging on other platforms to enable analysis and publication. The ISA software suite includes several components used in increasingly diverse set of life science and biomedical domains; it is underpinned by a general-purpose format, ISA-Tab, and conversions exist into formats required by public repositories. While ISA-Tab works well mainly as a human readable format, we have also implemented a linked data approach to semantically define the ISA-Tab syntax.
We present a semantic web representation of the ISA-Tab syntax that complements ISA-Tab's syntactic interoperability with semantic interoperability. We introduce the linkedISA conversion tool from ISA-Tab to the Resource Description Framework (RDF), supporting mappings from the ISA syntax to multiple community-defined, open ontologies and capitalising on user-provided ontology annotations in the experimental metadata. We describe insights of the implementation and how annotations can be expanded driven by the metadata. We applied the conversion tool as part of Bio-GraphIIn, a web-based application supporting integration of the semantically-rich experimental descriptions. Designed in a user-friendly manner, the Bio-GraphIIn interface hides most of the complexities to the users, exposing a familiar tabular view of the experimental description to allow seamless interaction with the RDF representation, and visualising descriptors to drive the query over the semantic representation of the experimental design. In addition, we defined queries over the linkedISA RDF representation and demonstrated its use over the linkedISA conversion of datasets from Nature' Scientific Data online publication.
Our linked data approach has allowed us to: 1) make the ISA-Tab semantics explicit and machine-processable, 2) exploit the existing ontology-based annotations in the ISA-Tab experimental descriptions, 3) augment the ISA-Tab syntax with new descriptive elements, 4) visualise and query elements related to the experimental design. Reasoning over ISA-Tab metadata and associated data will facilitate data integration and knowledge discovery.
PMCID: PMC4255742  PMID: 25472428
2.  The founding charter of the Genomic Observatories Network 
GigaScience  2014;3:2.
The co-authors of this paper hereby state their intention to work together to launch the Genomic Observatories Network (GOs Network) for which this document will serve as its Founding Charter. We define a Genomic Observatory as an ecosystem and/or site subject to long-term scientific research, including (but not limited to) the sustained study of genomic biodiversity from single-celled microbes to multicellular organisms.
An international group of 64 scientists first published the call for a global network of Genomic Observatories in January 2012. The vision for such a network was expanded in a subsequent paper and developed over a series of meetings in Bremen (Germany), Shenzhen (China), Moorea (French Polynesia), Oxford (UK), Pacific Grove (California, USA), Washington (DC, USA), and London (UK). While this community-building process continues, here we express our mutual intent to establish the GOs Network formally, and to describe our shared vision for its future. The views expressed here are ours alone as individual scientists, and do not necessarily represent those of the institutions with which we are affiliated.
PMCID: PMC3995929  PMID: 24606731
Biodiversity; Genomics; Biocode; Earth observations
3.  The Risa R/Bioconductor package: integrative data analysis from experimental metadata and back again 
BMC Bioinformatics  2014;15(Suppl 1):S11.
The ISA-Tab format and software suite have been developed to break the silo effect induced by technology-specific formats for a variety of data types and to better support experimental metadata tracking. Experimentalists seldom use a single technique to monitor biological signals. Providing a multi-purpose, pragmatic and accessible format that abstracts away common constructs for describing Investigations, Studies and Assays, ISA is increasingly popular. To attract further interest towards the format and extend support to ensure reproducible research and reusable data, we present the Risa package, which delivers a central component to support the ISA format by enabling effortless integration with R, the popular, open source data crunching environment.
The Risa package bridges the gap between the metadata collection and curation in an ISA-compliant way and the data analysis using the widely used statistical computing environment R. The package offers functionality for: i) parsing ISA-Tab datasets into R objects, ii) augmenting annotation with extra metadata not explicitly stated in the ISA syntax; iii) interfacing with domain specific R packages iv) suggesting potentially useful R packages available in Bioconductor for subsequent processing of the experimental data described in the ISA format; and finally v) saving back to ISA-Tab files augmented with analysis specific metadata from R. We demonstrate these features by presenting use cases for mass spectrometry data and DNA microarray data.
The Risa package is open source (with LGPL license) and freely available through Bioconductor. By making Risa available, we aim to facilitate the task of processing experimental data, encouraging a uniform representation of experimental information and results while delivering tools for ensuring traceability and provenance tracking.
Software availability
The Risa package is available since Bioconductor 2.11 (version 1.0.0) and version 1.2.1 appeared in Bioconductor 2.12, both along with documentation and examples. The latest version of the code is at the development branch in Bioconductor and can also be accessed from GitHub, where the issue tracker allows users to report bugs or feature requests.
PMCID: PMC4015122  PMID: 24564732
4.  Selected papers from the 15th Annual Bio-Ontologies Special Interest Group Meeting 
Journal of Biomedical Semantics  2013;4(Suppl 1):I1.
Over the 15 years, the Bio-Ontologies SIG at ISMB has provided a forum for discussion of the latest and most innovative research in the bio-ontologies development, its applications to biomedicine and more generally the organisation, presentation and dissemination of knowledge in biomedicine and the life sciences. The seven papers and the commentary selected for this supplement span a wide range of topics including: web-based querying over multiple ontologies, integration of data, annotating patent records, NCBO Web services, ontology developments for probabilistic reasoning and for physiological processes, and analysis of the progress of annotation and structural GO changes.
PMCID: PMC3633002  PMID: 23735191
5.  Toward interoperable bioscience data 
Nature genetics  2012;44(2):121-126.
To make full use of research data, the bioscience community needs to adopt technologies and reward mechanisms that support interoperability and promote the growth of an open ‘data commoning’ culture. Here we describe the prerequisites for data commoning and present an established and growing ecosystem of solutions using the shared ‘Investigation-Study-Assay’ framework to support that vision.
PMCID: PMC3428019  PMID: 22281772
6.  On the evolving portfolio of community-standards and data sharing policies: turning challenges into new opportunities 
GigaScience  2012;1:10.
There are thousands of biology databases with hundreds of terminologies, reporting guidelines, representations models, and exchange formats to help annotate, report, and share bioscience investigations. It is evident, however, that researchers and bioinformaticians struggle to navigate the various standards and to find the appropriate database to collect, manage, and share data. Further, policy makers, funders, and publishers lack sufficient information to formulate their guidelines. In this paper, we highlight a number of key issues that can be used to turn these challenges into new opportunities. It is time for all stakeholders to work together to reconcile cause and effect and make the data-sharing culture functional and efficient.
PMCID: PMC3626509  PMID: 23587326
Standard; Ontology; Data sharing; Curation; Data policy; ISA commons; ISA-Tab; BioSharing
7.  Selected papers from the 14th Annual Bio-Ontologies Special Interest Group Meeting 
Journal of Biomedical Semantics  2012;3(Suppl 1):I1.
Over the 14 years, the Bio-Ontologies SIG at ISMB has provided a forum for discussion of the latest and most innovative research in the bio-ontologies development, its applications to biomedicine and more generally the organisation, presentation and dissemination of knowledge in biomedicine and the life sciences. The seven papers selected for this supplement span a wide range of topics including: web-based querying over multiple ontologies, integration of data from wikis, innovative methods of annotating and mining electronic health records, advances in annotating web documents and biomedical literature, quality control of ontology alignments, and the ontology support for predictive models about toxicity and open access to the toxicity data.
PMCID: PMC3337261  PMID: 22541591
8.  Selected papers from the 13th Annual Bio-Ontologies Special Interest Group Meeting 
Journal of Biomedical Semantics  2011;2(Suppl 2):I1.
Over the years, the Bio-Ontologies SIG at ISMB has provided a forum for discussion of the latest and most innovative research in the application of ontologies and more generally the organisation, presentation and dissemination of knowledge in biomedicine and the life sciences. The ten papers selected for this supplement are extended versions of the original papers presented at the 2010 SIG. The papers span a wide range of topics including practical solutions for data and knowledge integration for translational medicine, hypothesis based querying , understanding kidney and urinary pathways, mining the pharmacogenomics literature; theoretical research into the orthogonality of biomedical ontologies, the representation of diseases, the representation of research hypotheses, the combination of ontologies and natural language processing for an annotation framework, the generation of textual definitions, and the discovery of gene interaction networks.
PMCID: PMC3102888  PMID: 21624154
9.  Meeting Report from the Second “Minimum Information for Biological and Biomedical Investigations” (MIBBI) workshop 
Standards in Genomic Sciences  2010;3(3):259-266.
This report summarizes the proceedings of the second workshop of the ‘Minimum Information for Biological and Biomedical Investigations’ (MIBBI) consortium held on Dec 1-2, 2010 in Rüdesheim, Germany through the sponsorship of the Beilstein-Institute. MIBBI is an umbrella organization uniting communities developing Minimum Information (MI) checklists to standardize the description of data sets, the workflows by which they were generated and the scientific context for the work. This workshop brought together representatives of more than twenty communities to present the status of their MI checklists and plans for future development. Shared challenges and solutions were identified and the role of MIBBI in MI checklist development was discussed. The meeting featured some thirty presentations, wide-ranging discussions and breakout groups. The top outcomes of the two-day workshop as defined by the participants were: 1) the chance to share best practices and to identify areas of synergy; 2) defining a series of tasks for updating the MIBBI Portal; 3) reemphasizing the need to maintain independent MI checklists for various communities while leveraging common terms and workflow elements contained in multiple checklists; and 4) revision of the concept of the MIBBI Foundry to focus on the creation of a core set of MIBBI modules intended for reuse by individual MI checklist projects while maintaining the integrity of each MI project. Further information about MIBBI and its range of activities can be found at
PMCID: PMC3035314  PMID: 21304730
11.  Modeling biomedical experimental processes with OBI 
Journal of Biomedical Semantics  2010;1(Suppl 1):S7.
Experimental descriptions are typically stored as free text without using standardized terminology, creating challenges in comparison, reproduction and analysis. These difficulties impose limitations on data exchange and information retrieval.
The Ontology for Biomedical Investigations (OBI), developed as a global, cross-community effort, provides a resource that represents biomedical investigations in an explicit and integrative framework. Here we detail three real-world applications of OBI, provide detailed modeling information and explain how to use OBI.
We demonstrate how OBI can be applied to different biomedical investigations to both facilitate interpretation of the experimental process and increase the computational processing and integration within the Semantic Web. The logical definitions of the entities involved allow computers to unambiguously understand and integrate different biological experimental processes and their relevant components.
OBI is available at
PMCID: PMC2903726  PMID: 20626927
12.  Facilitating the development of controlled vocabularies for metabolomics technologies with text mining 
BMC Bioinformatics  2008;9(Suppl 5):S5.
Many bioinformatics applications rely on controlled vocabularies or ontologies to consistently interpret and seamlessly integrate information scattered across public resources. Experimental data sets from metabolomics studies need to be integrated with one another, but also with data produced by other types of omics studies in the spirit of systems biology, hence the pressing need for vocabularies and ontologies in metabolomics. However, it is time-consuming and non trivial to construct these resources manually.
We describe a methodology for rapid development of controlled vocabularies, a study originally motivated by the needs for vocabularies describing metabolomics technologies. We present case studies involving two controlled vocabularies (for nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and gas chromatography) whose development is currently underway as part of the Metabolomics Standards Initiative. The initial vocabularies were compiled manually, providing a total of 243 and 152 terms. A total of 5,699 and 2,612 new terms were acquired automatically from the literature. The analysis of the results showed that full-text articles (especially the Materials and Methods sections) are the major source of technology-specific terms as opposed to paper abstracts.
We suggest a text mining method for efficient corpus-based term acquisition as a way of rapidly expanding a set of controlled vocabularies with the terms used in the scientific literature. We adopted an integrative approach, combining relatively generic software and data resources for time- and cost-effective development of a text mining tool for expansion of controlled vocabularies across various domains, as a practical alternative to both manual term collection and tailor-made named entity recognition methods.
PMCID: PMC2367623  PMID: 18460187
13.  Data Standards for Omics Data: The Basis of Data Sharing and Reuse 
To facilitate sharing of Omics data, many groups of scientists have been working to establish the relevant data standards. The main components of data sharing standards are experiment description standards, data exchange standards, terminology standards, and experiment execution standards. Here we provide a survey of existing and emerging standards that are intended to assist the free and open exchange of large-format data.
PMCID: PMC4152841  PMID: 21370078
Data sharing; Data exchange; Data standards; MGED; MIAME; Ontology; Data format; Microarray; Proteomics; Metabolomics
14.  Standardizing data 
Nature nanotechnology  2013;8(2):73-74.
PMCID: PMC4054689  PMID: 23380926
15.  EBI metagenomics—a new resource for the analysis and archiving of metagenomic data 
Nucleic Acids Research  2013;42(Database issue):D600-D606.
Metagenomics is a relatively recently established but rapidly expanding field that uses high-throughput next-generation sequencing technologies to characterize the microbial communities inhabiting different ecosystems (including oceans, lakes, soil, tundra, plants and body sites). Metagenomics brings with it a number of challenges, including the management, analysis, storage and sharing of data. In response to these challenges, we have developed a new metagenomics resource ( that allows users to easily submit raw nucleotide reads for functional and taxonomic analysis by a state-of-the-art pipeline, and have them automatically stored (together with descriptive, standards-compliant metadata) in the European Nucleotide Archive.
PMCID: PMC3965009  PMID: 24165880
16.  A sea of standards for omics data: sink or swim? 
In the era of Big Data, omic-scale technologies, and increasing calls for data sharing, it is generally agreed that the use of community-developed, open data standards is critical. Far less agreed upon is exactly which data standards should be used, the criteria by which one should choose a standard, or even what constitutes a data standard. It is impossible simply to choose a domain and have it naturally follow which data standards should be used in all cases. The ‘right’ standards to use is often dependent on the use case scenarios for a given project. Potential downstream applications for the data, however, may not always be apparent at the time the data are generated. Similarly, technology evolves, adding further complexity. Would-be standards adopters must strike a balance between planning for the future and minimizing the burden of compliance. Better tools and resources are required to help guide this balancing act.
PMCID: PMC3932466  PMID: 24076747
Data Standards; Data Sharing; Terminology; Information dissemination
17.  The MetaboLights repository: curation challenges in metabolomics 
MetaboLights is the first general-purpose open-access curated repository for metabolomic studies, their raw experimental data and associated metadata, maintained by one of the major open-access data providers in molecular biology. Increases in the number of depositions, number of samples per study and the file size of data submitted to MetaboLights present a challenge for the objective of ensuring high-quality and standardized data in the context of diverse metabolomic workflows and data representations. Here, we describe the MetaboLights curation pipeline, its challenges and its practical application in quality control of complex data depositions.
Database URL:
PMCID: PMC3638156  PMID: 23630246
18.  The Stem Cell Commons: an exemplar for data integration in the biomedical domain driven by the ISA framework 
Comparisons of stem cell experiments at both molecular and semantic levels remain challenging due to inconsistencies in results, data formats, and descriptions among biomedical research discoveries. The Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) has created the Stem Cell Commons (, an open, community-based approach to data sharing. Experimental information is integrated using the Investigation-Study-Assay tabular format (ISA-Tab) used by over 30 organizations (ISA Commons, The early adoption of this format permitted the novel integration of three independent systems to facilitate stem cell data storage, exchange and analysis: the Blood Genomics Repository, the Stem Cell Discovery Engine, and the new Refinery platform that links the Galaxy analytical engine to data repositories.
PMCID: PMC3814497  PMID: 24303302
19.  OntoMaton: a Bioportal powered ontology widget for Google Spreadsheets 
Bioinformatics  2012;29(4):525-527.
Motivation: Data collection in spreadsheets is ubiquitous, but current solutions lack support for collaborative semantic annotation that would promote shared and interdisciplinary annotation practices, supporting geographically distributed players.
Results: OntoMaton is an open source solution that brings ontology lookup and tagging capabilities into a cloud-based collaborative editing environment, harnessing Google Spreadsheets and the NCBO Web services. It is a general purpose, format-agnostic tool that may serve as a component of the ISA software suite. OntoMaton can also be used to assist the ontology development process.
Availability: OntoMaton is freely available from Google widgets under the CPAL open source license; documentation and examples at:
PMCID: PMC3570217  PMID: 23267176
20.  MetaboLights—an open-access general-purpose repository for metabolomics studies and associated meta-data 
Nucleic Acids Research  2012;41(Database issue):D781-D786.
MetaboLights ( is the first general-purpose, open-access repository for metabolomics studies, their raw experimental data and associated metadata, maintained by one of the major open-access data providers in molecular biology. Metabolomic profiling is an important tool for research into biological functioning and into the systemic perturbations caused by diseases, diet and the environment. The effectiveness of such methods depends on the availability of public open data across a broad range of experimental methods and conditions. The MetaboLights repository, powered by the open source ISA framework, is cross-species and cross-technique. It will cover metabolite structures and their reference spectra as well as their biological roles, locations, concentrations and raw data from metabolic experiments. Studies automatically receive a stable unique accession number that can be used as a publication reference (e.g. MTBLS1). At present, the repository includes 15 submitted studies, encompassing 93 protocols for 714 assays, and span over 8 different species including human, Caenorhabditis elegans, Mus musculus and Arabidopsis thaliana. Eight hundred twenty-seven of the metabolites identified in these studies have been mapped to ChEBI. These studies cover a variety of techniques, including NMR spectroscopy and mass spectrometry.
PMCID: PMC3531110  PMID: 23109552
21.  Recent advances in biocuration: Meeting Report from the fifth International Biocuration Conference 
The 5th International Biocuration Conference brought together over 300 scientists to exchange on their work, as well as discuss issues relevant to the International Society for Biocuration’s (ISB) mission. Recurring themes this year included the creation and promotion of gold standards, the need for more ontologies, and more formal interactions with journals. The conference is an essential part of the ISB's goal to support exchanges among members of the biocuration community. Next year's conference will be held in Cambridge, UK, from 7 to 10 April 2013. In the meanwhile, the ISB website provides information about the society's activities (, as well as related events of interest.
PMCID: PMC3483532  PMID: 23110974
22.  MetaboLights: towards a new COSMOS of metabolomics data management 
Metabolomics  2012;8(5):757-760.
Exciting funding initiatives are emerging in Europe and the US for metabolomics data production, storage, dissemination and analysis. This is based on a rich ecosystem of resources around the world, which has been build during the past ten years, including but not limited to resources such as MassBank in Japan and the Human Metabolome Database in Canada. Now, the European Bioinformatics Institute has launched MetaboLights, a database for metabolomics experiments and the associated metadata ( It is the first comprehensive, cross-species, cross-platform metabolomics database maintained by one of the major open access data providers in molecular biology. In October, the European COSMOS consortium will start its work on Metabolomics data standardization, publication and dissemination workflows. The NIH in the US is establishing 6–8 metabolomics services cores as well as a national metabolomics repository. This communication reports about MetaboLights as a new resource for Metabolomics research, summarises the related developments and outlines how they may consolidate the knowledge management in this third large omics field next to proteomics and genomics.
PMCID: PMC3465651  PMID: 23060735
Metabolomics; Databases; ISA-Tab; ISA commons
23.  The Metadata Coverage Index (MCI): A standardized metric for quantifying database metadata richness 
Standards in Genomic Sciences  2012;6(3):438-447.
Variability in the extent of the descriptions of data (‘metadata’) held in public repositories forces users to assess the quality of records individually, which rapidly becomes impractical. The scoring of records on the richness of their description provides a simple, objective proxy measure for quality that enables filtering that supports downstream analysis. Pivotally, such descriptions should spur on improvements. Here, we introduce such a measure - the ‘Metadata Coverage Index’ (MCI): the percentage of available fields actually filled in a record or description. MCI scores can be calculated across a database, for individual records or for their component parts (e.g., fields of interest). There are many potential uses for this simple metric: for example; to filter, rank or search for records; to assess the metadata availability of an ad hoc collection; to determine the frequency with which fields in a particular record type are filled, especially with respect to standards compliance; to assess the utility of specific tools and resources, and of data capture practice more generally; to prioritize records for further curation; to serve as performance metrics of funded projects; or to quantify the value added by curation. Here we demonstrate the utility of MCI scores using metadata from the Genomes Online Database (GOLD), including records compliant with the ‘Minimum Information about a Genome Sequence’ (MIGS) standard developed by the Genomic Standards Consortium. We discuss challenges and address the further application of MCI scores; to show improvements in annotation quality over time, to inform the work of standards bodies and repository providers on the usability and popularity of their products, and to assess and credit the work of curators. Such an index provides a step towards putting metadata capture practices and in the future, standards compliance, into a quantitative and objective framework.
PMCID: PMC3558968  PMID: 23409217
24.  Report of the 13th Genomic Standards Consortium Meeting, Shenzhen, China, March 4–7, 2012. 
Standards in Genomic Sciences  2012;6(2):276-286.
This report details the outcome of the 13th Meeting of the Genomic Standards Consortium. The three-day conference was held at the Kingkey Palace Hotel, Shenzhen, China, on March 5–7, 2012, and was hosted by the Beijing Genomics Institute. The meeting, titled From Genomes to Interactions to Communities to Models, highlighted the role of data standards associated with genomic, metagenomic, and amplicon sequence data and the contextual information associated with the sample. To this end the meeting focused on genomic projects for animals, plants, fungi, and viruses; metagenomic studies in host-microbe interactions; and the dynamics of microbial communities. In addition, the meeting hosted a Genomic Observatories Network session, a Genomic Standards Consortium biodiversity working group session, and a Microbiology of the Built Environment session sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
PMCID: PMC3387801  PMID: 22768370
Genomic Standards Consortium; microbiome; microbial metagenomics; fungal genomics; viral genomics; Genomic Observatories Network
25.  Conceptualizing a Genomics Software Institute (GSI) 
Standards in Genomic Sciences  2012;6(1):136-144.
Microbial ecology has been enhanced greatly by the ongoing ‘omics revolution, bringing half the world's biomass and most of its biodiversity into analytical view for the first time; indeed, it feels almost like the invention of the microscope and the discovery of the new world at the same time. With major microbial ecology research efforts accumulating prodigious quantities of sequence, protein, and metabolite data, we are now poised to address environmental microbial research at macro scales, and to begin to characterize and understand the dimensions of microbial biodiversity on the planet. What is currently impeding progress is the need for a framework within which the research community can develop, exchange and discuss predictive ecosystem models that describe the biodiversity and functional interactions. Such a framework must encompass data and metadata transparency and interoperation; data and results validation, curation, and search; application programming interfaces for modeling and analysis tools; and human and technical processes and services necessary to ensure broad adoption. Here we discuss the need for focused community interaction to augment and deepen established community efforts, beginning with the Genomic Standards Consortium (GSC), to create a science-driven strategic plan for a Genomic Software Institute (GSI).
PMCID: PMC3359878  PMID: 22675605

Results 1-25 (47)