The goal of the Gene Ontology (GO) project is to provide a uniform way to describe the functions of gene products from organisms across all kingdoms of life and thereby enable analysis of genomic data. Protein annotations are either based on experiments or predicted from protein sequences. Since most sequences have not been experimentally characterized, most available annotations need to be based on predictions. To make as accurate inferences as possible, the GO Consortium's Reference Genome Project is using an explicit evolutionary framework to infer annotations of proteins from a broad set of genomes from experimental annotations in a semi-automated manner. Most components in the pipeline, such as selection of sequences, building multiple sequence alignments and phylogenetic trees, retrieving experimental annotations and depositing inferred annotations, are fully automated. However, the most crucial step in our pipeline relies on software-assisted curation by an expert biologist. This curation tool, Phylogenetic Annotation and INference Tool (PAINT) helps curators to infer annotations among members of a protein family. PAINT allows curators to make precise assertions as to when functions were gained and lost during evolution and record the evidence (e.g. experimentally supported GO annotations and phylogenetic information including orthology) for those assertions. In this article, we describe how we use PAINT to infer protein function in a phylogenetic context with emphasis on its strengths, limitations and guidelines. We also discuss specific examples showing how PAINT annotations compare with those generated by other highly used homology-based methods.
gene ontology; genome annotation; reference genome; gene function prediction; phylogenetics
Mouse phenotype data represents a valuable resource for the identification of disease-associated genes, especially where the molecular basis is unknown and there is no clue to the candidate gene’s function, pathway involvement or expression pattern. However, until recently these data have not been systematically used due to difficulties in mapping between clinical features observed in humans and mouse phenotype annotations. Here, we describe a semantic approach to solve this problem and demonstrate highly significant recall of known disease-gene associations and orthology relationships. A web application (MouseFinder; www.mousemodels.org) has been developed to allow users to search the results of our whole-phenome comparison of human and mouse. We demonstrate its use in identifying ARTN as a strong candidate gene within the 1p34.1-p32 mapped locus for a hereditary form of ptosis.
phenotype; candidate disease genes; model organism; mouse
Numerous disease syndromes are associated with regions of copy number variation (CNV) in the human genome and, in most cases, the pathogenicity of the CNV is thought to be related to altered dosage of the genes contained within the affected segment. However, establishing the contribution of individual genes to the overall pathogenicity of CNV syndromes is difficult and often relies on the identification of potential candidates through manual searches of the literature and online resources. We describe here the development of a computational framework to comprehensively search phenotypic information from model organisms and single-gene human hereditary disorders, and thus speed the interpretation of the complex phenotypes of CNV disorders. There are currently more than 5000 human genes about which nothing is known phenotypically but for which detailed phenotypic information for the mouse and/or zebrafish orthologs is available. Here, we present an ontology-based approach to identify similarities between human disease manifestations and the mutational phenotypes in characterized model organism genes; this approach can therefore be used even in cases where there is little or no information about the function of the human genes. We applied this algorithm to detect candidate genes for 27 recurrent CNV disorders and identified 802 gene-phenotype associations, approximately half of which involved genes that were previously reported to be associated with individual phenotypic features and half of which were novel candidates. A total of 431 associations were made solely on the basis of model organism phenotype data. Additionally, we observed a striking, statistically significant tendency for individual disease phenotypes to be associated with multiple genes located within a single CNV region, a phenomenon that we denote as pheno-clustering. Many of the clusters also display statistically significant similarities in protein function or vicinity within the protein-protein interaction network. Our results provide a basis for understanding previously un-interpretable genotype-phenotype correlations in pathogenic CNVs and for mobilizing the large amount of model organism phenotype data to provide insights into human genetic disorders.
Neurodegenerative diseases present a wide and complex range of biological and clinical features. Animal models are key to translational research, yet typically only exhibit a subset of disease features rather than being precise replicas of the disease. Consequently, connecting animal to human conditions using direct data-mining strategies has proven challenging, particularly for diseases of the nervous system, with its complicated anatomy and physiology. To address this challenge we have explored the use of ontologies to create formal descriptions of structural phenotypes across scales that are machine processable and amenable to logical inference. As proof of concept, we built a Neurodegenerative Disease Phenotype Ontology (NDPO) and an associated Phenotype Knowledge Base (PKB) using an entity-quality model that incorporates descriptions for both human disease phenotypes and those of animal models. Entities are drawn from community ontologies made available through the Neuroscience Information Framework (NIF) and qualities are drawn from the Phenotype and Trait Ontology (PATO). We generated ~1200 structured phenotype statements describing structural alterations at the subcellular, cellular and gross anatomical levels observed in 11 human neurodegenerative conditions and associated animal models. PhenoSim, an open source tool for comparing phenotypes, was used to issue a series of competency questions to compare individual phenotypes among organisms and to determine which animal models recapitulate phenotypic aspects of the human disease in aggregate. Overall, the system was able to use relationships within the ontology to bridge phenotypes across scales, returning non-trivial matches based on common subsumers that were meaningful to a neuroscientist with an advanced knowledge of neuroanatomy. The system can be used both to compare individual phenotypes and also phenotypes in aggregate. This proof of concept suggests that expressing complex phenotypes using formal ontologies provides considerable benefit for comparing phenotypes across scales and species.
phenotype; ontology; Neuroscience Information Framework; neurodegenerative disease; semantics
Representing phenotype in a way that can be linked to thousands of molecular genetic and environmental databases is an unresolved research challenge. A recent meeting of the Phenotype Research Coordination Network (RCN) aimed to coordinate and leverage current efforts. The three day summit meeting was hosted by NESCent (The National Evolutionary Synthesis Center) in Durham, North Carolina on the 23rd – 25th of February, 2012.
A recent paper (Nehrt et al., PLoS Comput. Biol. 7:e1002073, 2011) has proposed a metric for the “functional similarity” between two genes that uses only the Gene Ontology (GO) annotations directly derived from published experimental results. Applying this metric, the authors concluded that paralogous genes within the mouse genome or the human genome are more functionally similar on average than orthologous genes between these genomes, an unexpected result with broad implications if true. We suggest, based on both theoretical and empirical considerations, that this proposed metric should not be interpreted as a functional similarity, and therefore cannot be used to support any conclusions about the “ortholog conjecture” (or, more properly, the “ortholog functional conservation hypothesis”). First, we reexamine the case studies presented by Nehrt et al. as examples of orthologs with divergent functions, and come to a very different conclusion: they actually exemplify how GO annotations for orthologous genes provide complementary information about conserved biological functions. We then show that there is a global ascertainment bias in the experiment-based GO annotations for human and mouse genes: particular types of experiments tend to be performed in different model organisms. We conclude that the reported statistical differences in annotations between pairs of orthologous genes do not reflect differences in biological function, but rather complementarity in experimental approaches. Our results underscore two general considerations for researchers proposing novel types of analysis based on the GO: 1) that GO annotations are often incomplete, potentially in a biased manner, and subject to an “open world assumption” (absence of an annotation does not imply absence of a function), and 2) that conclusions drawn from a novel, large-scale GO analysis should whenever possible be supported by careful, in-depth examination of examples, to help ensure the conclusions have a justifiable biological basis.
Understanding gene function—how individual genes contribute to the biology of an organism at the molecular, cellular and organism levels—is one of the primary aims of biomedical research. It has been a longstanding tenet of model organism research that experimental knowledge obtained in one organism is often applicable to other organisms, particularly if the organisms share the relevant genes because they inherited them from their common ancestor. Nevertheless this tenet is, like any hypothesis, not beyond question. A recent paper has termed this hypothesis a “conjecture,” and performed a statistical analysis, the results of which were interpreted as evidence against the hypothesis. This statistical analysis relied on a computational representation of gene function, the Gene Ontology (GO). As representatives of the international consortium that produces the GO, we show how the apparent evidence against the “ortholog conjecture” can be better explained as an artifact of how molecular biology knowledge is accumulated. In short, a complementarity between knowledge obtained in mouse and human experimental systems was incorrectly interpreted as a disagreement. We discuss the proper interpretation of GO annotations and potential sources of bias, with an eye toward enhancing the informed use of the GO by the scientific community.
We present Uberon, an integrated cross-species ontology consisting of over 6,500 classes representing a variety of anatomical entities, organized according to traditional anatomical classification criteria. The ontology represents structures in a species-neutral way and includes extensive associations to existing species-centric anatomical ontologies, allowing integration of model organism and human data. Uberon provides a necessary bridge between anatomical structures in different taxa for cross-species inference. It uses novel methods for representing taxonomic variation, and has proved to be essential for translational phenotype analyses. Uberon is available at http://uberon.org
In an effort to comprehensively characterize the functional elements within the genomes of the important model organisms Drosophila melanogaster and Caenorhabditis elegans, the NHGRI model organism Encyclopaedia of DNA Elements (modENCODE) consortium has generated an enormous library of genomic data along with detailed, structured information on all aspects of the experiments. The modMine database (http://intermine.modencode.org) described here has been built by the modENCODE Data Coordination Center to allow the broader research community to (i) search for and download data sets of interest among the thousands generated by modENCODE; (ii) access the data in an integrated form together with non-modENCODE data sets; and (iii) facilitate fine-grained analysis of the above data. The sophisticated search features are possible because of the collection of extensive experimental metadata by the consortium. Interfaces are provided to allow both biologists and bioinformaticians to exploit these rich modENCODE data sets now available via modMine.
The model organism Encyclopedia of DNA Elements (modENCODE) project is a National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) initiative designed to characterize the genomes of Drosophila melanogaster and Caenorhabditis elegans. A Data Coordination Center (DCC) was created to collect, store and catalog modENCODE data. An effective DCC must gather, organize and provide all primary, interpreted and analyzed data, and ensure the community is supplied with the knowledge of the experimental conditions, protocols and verification checks used to generate each primary data set. We present here the design principles of the modENCODE DCC, and describe the ramifications of collecting thorough and deep metadata for describing experiments, including the use of a wiki for capturing protocol and reagent information, and the BIR-TAB specification for linking biological samples to experimental results. modENCODE data can be found at http://www.modencode.org.
Database URL: http://www.modencode.org.
A phenotypic ontology that can be used for the analysis of phenotype-genotype data across multiple species, paving the way for truly cross species translational research.
Phenotype ontologies are typically constructed to serve the needs of a particular community, such as annotation of genotype-phenotype associations in mouse or human. Here we demonstrate how these ontologies can be improved through assignment of logical definitions using a core ontology of phenotypic qualities and multiple additional ontologies from the Open Biological Ontologies library. We also show how these logical definitions can be used for data integration when combined with a unified multi-species anatomy ontology.
A novel method for quantifying the similarity between phenotypes by the use of ontologies can be used to search for candidate genes, pathway members, and human disease models on the basis of phenotypes alone.
Scientists and clinicians who study genetic alterations and disease have traditionally described phenotypes in natural language. The considerable variation in these free-text descriptions has posed a hindrance to the important task of identifying candidate genes and models for human diseases and indicates the need for a computationally tractable method to mine data resources for mutant phenotypes. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that ontological annotation of disease phenotypes will facilitate the discovery of new genotype-phenotype relationships within and across species. To describe phenotypes using ontologies, we used an Entity-Quality (EQ) methodology, wherein the affected entity (E) and how it is affected (Q) are recorded using terms from a variety of ontologies. Using this EQ method, we annotated the phenotypes of 11 gene-linked human diseases described in Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (OMIM). These human annotations were loaded into our Ontology-Based Database (OBD) along with other ontology-based phenotype descriptions of mutants from various model organism databases. Phenotypes recorded with this EQ method can be computationally compared based on the hierarchy of terms in the ontologies and the frequency of annotation. We utilized four similarity metrics to compare phenotypes and developed an ontology of homologous and analogous anatomical structures to compare phenotypes between species. Using these tools, we demonstrate that we can identify, through the similarity of the recorded phenotypes, other alleles of the same gene, other members of a signaling pathway, and orthologous genes and pathway members across species. We conclude that EQ-based annotation of phenotypes, in conjunction with a cross-species ontology, and a variety of similarity metrics can identify biologically meaningful similarities between genes by comparing phenotypes alone. This annotation and search method provides a novel and efficient means to identify gene candidates and animal models of human disease, which may shorten the lengthy path to identification and understanding of the genetic basis of human disease.
Model organisms such as fruit flies, mice, and zebrafish are useful for investigating gene function because they are easy to grow, dissect, and genetically manipulate in the laboratory. By examining mutations in these organisms, one can identify candidate genes that cause disease in humans, and develop models to better understand human disease and gene function. A fundamental roadblock for analysis is, however, the lack of a computational method for describing and comparing phenotypes of mutant animals and of human diseases when the genetic basis is unknown. We describe here a novel method using ontologies to record and quantify the similarity between phenotypes. We tested our method by using the annotated mutant phenotype of one member of the Hedgehog signaling pathway in zebrafish to identify other pathway members with similar recorded phenotypes. We also compared human disease phenotypes to those produced by mutation in model organisms, and show that orthologous and biologically relevant genes can be identified by this method. Given that the genetic basis of human disease is often unknown, this method provides a means for identifying candidate genes, pathway members, and disease models by computationally identifying similar phenotypes within and across species.
A wide variety of ontologies relevant to the biological and medical domains are available through the OBO Foundry portal, and their number is growing rapidly. Integration of these ontologies, while requiring considerable effort, is extremely desirable. However, heterogeneities in format and style pose serious obstacles to such integration. In particular, inconsistencies in naming conventions can impair the readability and navigability of ontology class hierarchies, and hinder their alignment and integration. While other sources of diversity are tremendously complex and challenging, agreeing a set of common naming conventions is an achievable goal, particularly if those conventions are based on lessons drawn from pooled practical experience and surveys of community opinion.
We summarize a review of existing naming conventions and highlight certain disadvantages with respect to general applicability in the biological domain. We also present the results of a survey carried out to establish which naming conventions are currently employed by OBO Foundry ontologies and to determine what their special requirements regarding the naming of entities might be. Lastly, we propose an initial set of typographic, syntactic and semantic conventions for labelling classes in OBO Foundry ontologies.
Adherence to common naming conventions is more than just a matter of aesthetics. Such conventions provide guidance to ontology creators, help developers avoid flaws and inaccuracies when editing, and especially when interlinking, ontologies. Common naming conventions will also assist consumers of ontologies to more readily understand what meanings were intended by the authors of ontologies used in annotating bodies of data.
The goal of the Sequence Ontology (SO) project is to produce a structured controlled vocabulary with a common set of terms and definitions for parts of a genomic annotation, and to describe the relationships among them. Details of SO construction, design and use, particularly with regard to part-whole relationships are discussed and the practical utility of SO is demonstrated for a set of genome annotations from Drosophila melanogaster.
The Sequence Ontology (SO) is a structured controlled vocabulary for the parts of a genomic annotation. SO provides a common set of terms and definitions that will facilitate the exchange, analysis and management of genomic data. Because SO treats part-whole relationships rigorously, data described with it can become substrates for automated reasoning, and instances of sequence features described by the SO can be subjected to a group of logical operations termed extensional mereology operators.
The Gene Ontology consortium began six years ago with a group of scientists who decided to connect our data by sharing the same language for describing it. Its most significant achievement lies in uniting many independent biological database efforts into a cooperative force.
The Gene Ontology consortium began six years ago with a group of scientists who decided to connect our data by sharing the same language for describing it. Its most significant achievement lies in uniting many independent biological database efforts into a cooperative force.
This Sequence Ontology (SO)  aims to unify the way in which we describe
sequence annotations, by providing a controlled vocabulary of terms and the
relationships between them. Using SO terms to label the parts of sequence annotations
greatly facilitates downstream analyses of their contents, as it ensures that annotations
produced by different groups conform to a single standard. This greatly facilitates
analyses of annotation contents and characteristics, e.g. comparisons of UTRs,
alternative splicing, etc. Because SO also specifies the relationships between features,
e.g. part_of, kind_of, annotations described with SO terms are also better substrates
for validation and visualization software.
This document provides a step-by-step guide to producing a SO compliant file
describing a sequence annotation. We illustrate this by using an annotated gene as an
example. First we show where the terms needed to describe the gene's features are
located in SO and their relationships to one another. We then show line by line how
to format the file to construct a SO compliant annotation of this gene.
As a first step to creating a comprehensive atlas of gene-expression patterns during Drosophila embryogenesis, 2,179 genes have been examinded by in situ hybridization to fixed Drosophila embryos. Of the genes assayed, 63.7% displayed dynamic expression patterns that were documented with 25,690 digital photomicrographs of individual embryos.
Cell-fate specification and tissue differentiation during development are largely achieved by the regulation of gene transcription.
As a first step to creating a comprehensive atlas of gene-expression patterns during Drosophila embryogenesis, we examined 2,179 genes by in situ hybridization to fixed Drosophila embryos. Of the genes assayed, 63.7% displayed dynamic expression patterns that were documented with 25,690 digital photomicrographs of individual embryos. The photomicrographs were annotated using controlled vocabularies for anatomical structures that are organized into a developmental hierarchy. We also generated a detailed time course of gene expression during embryogenesis using microarrays to provide an independent corroboration of the in situ hybridization results. All image, annotation and microarray data are stored in publicly available database. We found that the RNA transcripts of about 1% of genes show clear subcellular localization. Nearly all the annotated expression patterns are distinct. We present an approach for organizing the data by hierarchical clustering of annotation terms that allows us to group tissues that express similar sets of genes as well as genes displaying similar expression patterns.
Analyzing gene-expression patterns by in situ hybridization to whole-mount embryos provides an extremely rich dataset that can be used to identify genes involved in developmental processes that have been missed by traditional genetic analysis. Systematic analysis of rigorously annotated patterns of gene expression will complement and extend the types of analyses carried out using expression microarrays.
Using Release 3 of the euchromatic genomic sequence of Drosophila melanogaster, 85 known and eight novel families of transposable element have been identified, varying in copy number from one to 146. A total of 1,572 full and partial transposable elements were identified, comprising 3.86% of the sequence.
Transposable elements are found in the genomes of nearly all eukaryotes. The recent completion of the Release 3 euchromatic genomic sequence of Drosophila melanogaster by the Berkeley Drosophila Genome Project has provided precise sequence for the repetitive elements in the Drosophila euchromatin. We have used this genomic sequence to describe the euchromatic transposable elements in the sequenced strain of this species.
We identified 85 known and eight novel families of transposable element varying in copy number from one to 146. A total of 1,572 full and partial transposable elements were identified, comprising 3.86% of the sequence. More than two-thirds of the transposable elements are partial. The density of transposable elements increases an average of 4.7 times in the centromere-proximal regions of each of the major chromosome arms. We found that transposable elements are preferentially found outside genes; only 436 of 1,572 transposable elements are contained within the 61.4 Mb of sequence that is annotated as being transcribed. A large proportion of transposable elements is found nested within other elements of the same or different classes. Lastly, an analysis of structural variation from different families reveals distinct patterns of deletion for elements belonging to different classes.
This analysis represents an initial characterization of the transposable elements in the Release 3 euchromatic genomic sequence of D. melanogaster for which comparison to the transposable elements of other organisms can begin to be made. These data have been made available on the Berkeley Drosophila Genome Project website for future analyses.
The present article proposes the adoption of a community-defined, uniform, generic description of the core attributes of biological databases, BioDBCore. The goals of these attributes are to provide a general overview of the database landscape, to encourage consistency and interoperability between resources; and to promote the use of semantic and syntactic standards. BioDBCore will make it easier for users to evaluate the scope and relevance of available resources. This new resource will increase the collective impact of the information present in biological databases.
The present article proposes the adoption of a community-defined, uniform, generic description of the core attributes of biological databases, BioDBCore. The goals of these attributes are to provide a general overview of the database landscape, to encourage consistency and interoperability between resources and to promote the use of semantic and syntactic standards. BioDBCore will make it easier for users to evaluate the scope and relevance of available resources. This new resource will increase the collective impact of the information present in biological databases.
The Minimum Information for Biological and Biomedical Investigations (MIBBI) project provides a resource for those exploring the range of extant minimum information checklists and fosters coordinated development of such checklists.
With the quantity of genomic data increasing at an exponential rate, it is imperative that these data be captured electronically, in a standard format. Standardization activities must proceed within the auspices of open-access and international working bodies. To tackle the issues surrounding the development of better descriptions of genomic investigations, we have formed the Genomic Standards Consortium (GSC). Here, we introduce the minimum information about a genome sequence (MIGS) specification with the intent of promoting participation in its development and discussing the resources that will be required to develop improved mechanisms of metadata capture and exchange. As part of its wider goals, the GSC also supports improving the ‘transparency’ of the information contained in existing genomic databases.
We present the results of EGASP, a community experiment to assess the state-of-the-art in genome annotation within the ENCODE regions, which span 1% of the human genome sequence. The experiment had two major goals: the assessment of the accuracy of computational methods to predict protein coding genes; and the overall assessment of the completeness of the current human genome annotations as represented in the ENCODE regions. For the computational prediction assessment, eighteen groups contributed gene predictions. We evaluated these submissions against each other based on a 'reference set' of annotations generated as part of the GENCODE project. These annotations were not available to the prediction groups prior to the submission deadline, so that their predictions were blind and an external advisory committee could perform a fair assessment.
The best methods had at least one gene transcript correctly predicted for close to 70% of the annotated genes. Nevertheless, the multiple transcript accuracy, taking into account alternative splicing, reached only approximately 40% to 50% accuracy. At the coding nucleotide level, the best programs reached an accuracy of 90% in both sensitivity and specificity. Programs relying on mRNA and protein sequences were the most accurate in reproducing the manually curated annotations. Experimental validation shows that only a very small percentage (3.2%) of the selected 221 computationally predicted exons outside of the existing annotation could be verified.
This is the first such experiment in human DNA, and we have followed the standards established in a similar experiment, GASP1, in Drosophila melanogaster. We believe the results presented here contribute to the value of ongoing large-scale annotation projects and should guide further experimental methods when being scaled up to the entire human genome sequence.
The recent completion of the Drosophila melanogaster genomic sequence to high quality, and the availability of a greatly expanded set of Drosophila cDNA sequences, afforded FlyBase the opportunity to significantly improve genomic annotations.
The recent completion of the Drosophila melanogaster genomic sequence to high quality and the availability of a greatly expanded set of Drosophila cDNA sequences, aligning to 78% of the predicted euchromatic genes, afforded FlyBase the opportunity to significantly improve genomic annotations. We made the annotation process more rigorous by inspecting each gene visually, utilizing a comprehensive set of curation rules, requiring traceable evidence for each gene model, and comparing each predicted peptide to SWISS-PROT and TrEMBL sequences.
Although the number of predicted protein-coding genes in Drosophila remains essentially unchanged, the revised annotation significantly improves gene models, resulting in structural changes to 85% of the transcripts and 45% of the predicted proteins. We annotated transposable elements and non-protein-coding RNAs as new features, and extended the annotation of untranslated (UTR) sequences and alternative transcripts to include more than 70% and 20% of genes, respectively. Finally, cDNA sequence provided evidence for dicistronic transcripts, neighboring genes with overlapping UTRs on the same DNA sequence strand, alternatively spliced genes that encode distinct, non-overlapping peptides, and numerous nested genes.
Identification of so many unusual gene models not only suggests that some mechanisms for gene regulation are more prevalent than previously believed, but also underscores the complex challenges of eukaryotic gene prediction. At present, experimental data and human curation remain essential to generate high-quality genome annotations.