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1.  Protein Ontology: a controlled structured network of protein entities 
Nucleic Acids Research  2013;42(D1):D415-D421.
The Protein Ontology (PRO; formally defines protein entities and explicitly represents their major forms and interrelations. Protein entities represented in PRO corresponding to single amino acid chains are categorized by level of specificity into family, gene, sequence and modification metaclasses, and there is a separate metaclass for protein complexes. All metaclasses also have organism-specific derivatives. PRO complements established sequence databases such as UniProtKB, and interoperates with other biomedical and biological ontologies such as the Gene Ontology (GO). PRO relates to UniProtKB in that PRO’s organism-specific classes of proteins encoded by a specific gene correspond to entities documented in UniProtKB entries. PRO relates to the GO in that PRO’s representations of organism-specific protein complexes are subclasses of the organism-agnostic protein complex terms in the GO Cellular Component Ontology. The past few years have seen growth and changes to the PRO, as well as new points of access to the data and new applications of PRO in immunology and proteomics. Here we describe some of these developments.
PMCID: PMC3964965  PMID: 24270789
2.  Ontology based molecular signatures for immune cell types via gene expression analysis 
BMC Bioinformatics  2013;14:263.
New technologies are focusing on characterizing cell types to better understand their heterogeneity. With large volumes of cellular data being generated, innovative methods are needed to structure the resulting data analyses. Here, we describe an ‘Ontologically BAsed Molecular Signature’ (OBAMS) method that identifies novel cellular biomarkers and infers biological functions as characteristics of particular cell types. This method finds molecular signatures for immune cell types based on mapping biological samples to the Cell Ontology (CL) and navigating the space of all possible pairwise comparisons between cell types to find genes whose expression is core to a particular cell type’s identity.
We illustrate this ontological approach by evaluating expression data available from the Immunological Genome project (IGP) to identify unique biomarkers of mature B cell subtypes. We find that using OBAMS, candidate biomarkers can be identified at every strata of cellular identity from broad classifications to very granular. Furthermore, we show that Gene Ontology can be used to cluster cell types by shared biological processes in order to find candidate genes responsible for somatic hypermutation in germinal center B cells. Moreover, through in silico experiments based on this approach, we have identified genes sets that represent genes overexpressed in germinal center B cells and identify genes uniquely expressed in these B cells compared to other B cell types.
This work demonstrates the utility of incorporating structured ontological knowledge into biological data analysis – providing a new method for defining novel biomarkers and providing an opportunity for new biological insights.
PMCID: PMC3844401  PMID: 24004649
3.  A Unified Anatomy Ontology of the Vertebrate Skeletal System 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(12):e51070.
The skeleton is of fundamental importance in research in comparative vertebrate morphology, paleontology, biomechanics, developmental biology, and systematics. Motivated by research questions that require computational access to and comparative reasoning across the diverse skeletal phenotypes of vertebrates, we developed a module of anatomical concepts for the skeletal system, the Vertebrate Skeletal Anatomy Ontology (VSAO), to accommodate and unify the existing skeletal terminologies for the species-specific (mouse, the frog Xenopus, zebrafish) and multispecies (teleost, amphibian) vertebrate anatomy ontologies. Previous differences between these terminologies prevented even simple queries across databases pertaining to vertebrate morphology. This module of upper-level and specific skeletal terms currently includes 223 defined terms and 179 synonyms that integrate skeletal cells, tissues, biological processes, organs (skeletal elements such as bones and cartilages), and subdivisions of the skeletal system. The VSAO is designed to integrate with other ontologies, including the Common Anatomy Reference Ontology (CARO), Gene Ontology (GO), Uberon, and Cell Ontology (CL), and it is freely available to the community to be updated with additional terms required for research. Its structure accommodates anatomical variation among vertebrate species in development, structure, and composition. Annotation of diverse vertebrate phenotypes with this ontology will enable novel inquiries across the full spectrum of phenotypic diversity.
PMCID: PMC3519498  PMID: 23251424
4.  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
5.  How the gene ontology evolves 
BMC Bioinformatics  2011;12:325.
Maintaining a bio-ontology in the long term requires improving and updating its contents so that it adequately captures what is known about biological phenomena. This paper illustrates how these processes are carried out, by studying the ways in which curators at the Gene Ontology have hitherto incorporated new knowledge into their resource.
Five types of circumstances are singled out as warranting changes in the ontology: (1) the emergence of anomalies within GO; (2) the extension of the scope of GO; (3) divergence in how terminology is used across user communities; (4) new discoveries that change the meaning of the terms used and their relations to each other; and (5) the extension of the range of relations used to link entities or processes described by GO terms.
This study illustrates the difficulties involved in applying general standards to the development of a specific ontology. Ontology curation aims to produce a faithful representation of knowledge domains as they keep developing, which requires the translation of general guidelines into specific representations of reality and an understanding of how scientific knowledge is produced and constantly updated. In this context, it is important that trained curators with technical expertise in the scientific field(s) in question are involved in supervising ontology shifts and identifying inaccuracies.
PMCID: PMC3166943  PMID: 21819553
Gene Ontology; knowledge; maintenance; curation; ontology shifts
6.  Novel sequence feature variant type analysis of the HLA genetic association in systemic sclerosis 
Human Molecular Genetics  2009;19(4):707-719.
We describe a novel approach to genetic association analyses with proteins sub-divided into biologically relevant smaller sequence features (SFs), and their variant types (VTs). SFVT analyses are particularly informative for study of highly polymorphic proteins such as the human leukocyte antigen (HLA), given the nature of its genetic variation: the high level of polymorphism, the pattern of amino acid variability, and that most HLA variation occurs at functionally important sites, as well as its known role in organ transplant rejection, autoimmune disease development and response to infection. Further, combinations of variable amino acid sites shared by several HLA alleles (shared epitopes) are most likely better descriptors of the actual causative genetic variants. In a cohort of systemic sclerosis patients/controls, SFVT analysis shows that a combination of SFs implicating specific amino acid residues in peptide binding pockets 4 and 7 of HLA-DRB1 explains much of the molecular determinant of risk.
PMCID: PMC2807365  PMID: 19933168
7.  Logical Development of the Cell Ontology 
BMC Bioinformatics  2011;12:6.
The Cell Ontology (CL) is an ontology for the representation of in vivo cell types. As biological ontologies such as the CL grow in complexity, they become increasingly difficult to use and maintain. By making the information in the ontology computable, we can use automated reasoners to detect errors and assist with classification. Here we report on the generation of computable definitions for the hematopoietic cell types in the CL.
Computable definitions for over 340 CL classes have been created using a genus-differentia approach. These define cell types according to multiple axes of classification such as the protein complexes found on the surface of a cell type, the biological processes participated in by a cell type, or the phenotypic characteristics associated with a cell type. We employed automated reasoners to verify the ontology and to reveal mistakes in manual curation. The implementation of this process exposed areas in the ontology where new cell type classes were needed to accommodate species-specific expression of cellular markers. Our use of reasoners also inferred new relationships within the CL, and between the CL and the contributing ontologies. This restructured ontology can be used to identify immune cells by flow cytometry, supports sophisticated biological queries involving cells, and helps generate new hypotheses about cell function based on similarities to other cell types.
Use of computable definitions enhances the development of the CL and supports the interoperability of OBO ontologies.
PMCID: PMC3024222  PMID: 21208450
8.  An improved ontological representation of dendritic cells as a paradigm for all cell types 
BMC Bioinformatics  2009;10:70.
Recent increases in the volume and diversity of life science data and information and an increasing emphasis on data sharing and interoperability have resulted in the creation of a large number of biological ontologies, including the Cell Ontology (CL), designed to provide a standardized representation of cell types for data annotation. Ontologies have been shown to have significant benefits for computational analyses of large data sets and for automated reasoning applications, leading to organized attempts to improve the structure and formal rigor of ontologies to better support computation. Currently, the CL employs multiple is_a relations, defining cell types in terms of histological, functional, and lineage properties, and the majority of definitions are written with sufficient generality to hold across multiple species. This approach limits the CL's utility for computation and for cross-species data integration.
To enhance the CL's utility for computational analyses, we developed a method for the ontological representation of cells and applied this method to develop a dendritic cell ontology (DC-CL). DC-CL subtypes are delineated on the basis of surface protein expression, systematically including both species-general and species-specific types and optimizing DC-CL for the analysis of flow cytometry data. We avoid multiple uses of is_a by linking DC-CL terms to terms in other ontologies via additional, formally defined relations such as has_function.
This approach brings benefits in the form of increased accuracy, support for reasoning, and interoperability with other ontology resources. Accordingly, we propose our method as a general strategy for the ontological representation of cells. DC-CL is available from .
PMCID: PMC2662812  PMID: 19243617
9.  Muscle Research and Gene Ontology: New standards for improved data integration 
The Gene Ontology Project provides structured controlled vocabularies for molecular biology that can be used for the functional annotation of genes and gene products. In a collaboration between the Gene Ontology (GO) Consortium and the muscle biology community, we have made large-scale additions to the GO biological process and cellular component ontologies. The main focus of this ontology development work concerns skeletal muscle, with specific consideration given to the processes of muscle contraction, plasticity, development, and regeneration, and to the sarcomere and membrane-delimited compartments. Our aims were to update the existing structure to reflect current knowledge, and to resolve, in an accommodating manner, the ambiguity in the language used by the community.
The updated muscle terminologies have been incorporated into the GO. There are now 159 new terms covering critical research areas, and 57 existing terms have been improved and reorganized to follow their usage in muscle literature.
The revised GO structure should improve the interpretation of data from high-throughput (e.g. microarray and proteomic) experiments in the area of muscle science and muscle disease. We actively encourage community feedback on, and gene product annotation with these new terms. Please visit the Muscle Community Annotation Wiki .
PMCID: PMC2657163  PMID: 19178689

Results 1-9 (9)