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1.  Enriched biodiversity data as a resource and service 
Background: Recent years have seen a surge in projects that produce large volumes of structured, machine-readable biodiversity data. To make these data amenable to processing by generic, open source “data enrichment” workflows, they are increasingly being represented in a variety of standards-compliant interchange formats. Here, we report on an initiative in which software developers and taxonomists came together to address the challenges and highlight the opportunities in the enrichment of such biodiversity data by engaging in intensive, collaborative software development: The Biodiversity Data Enrichment Hackathon.
Results: The hackathon brought together 37 participants (including developers and taxonomists, i.e. scientific professionals that gather, identify, name and classify species) from 10 countries: Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the UK, and the US. The participants brought expertise in processing structured data, text mining, development of ontologies, digital identification keys, geographic information systems, niche modeling, natural language processing, provenance annotation, semantic integration, taxonomic name resolution, web service interfaces, workflow tools and visualisation. Most use cases and exemplar data were provided by taxonomists.
One goal of the meeting was to facilitate re-use and enhancement of biodiversity knowledge by a broad range of stakeholders, such as taxonomists, systematists, ecologists, niche modelers, informaticians and ontologists. The suggested use cases resulted in nine breakout groups addressing three main themes: i) mobilising heritage biodiversity knowledge; ii) formalising and linking concepts; and iii) addressing interoperability between service platforms. Another goal was to further foster a community of experts in biodiversity informatics and to build human links between research projects and institutions, in response to recent calls to further such integration in this research domain.
Conclusions: Beyond deriving prototype solutions for each use case, areas of inadequacy were discussed and are being pursued further. It was striking how many possible applications for biodiversity data there were and how quickly solutions could be put together when the normal constraints to collaboration were broken down for a week. Conversely, mobilising biodiversity knowledge from their silos in heritage literature and natural history collections will continue to require formalisation of the concepts (and the links between them) that define the research domain, as well as increased interoperability between the software platforms that operate on these concepts.
PMCID: PMC4092319  PMID: 25057255
Biodiversity informatics; Data enrichment; Hackathon; Intelligent openness; Linked data; Open source; Software; Semantic Web; Taxonomy; Web services
2.  Thematic series on biomedical ontologies in JBMS: challenges and new directions 
Over the past 15 years, the biomedical research community has increased its efforts to produce ontologies encoding biomedical knowledge, and to provide the corresponding infrastructure to maintain them. As ontologies are becoming a central part of biological and biomedical research, a communication channel to publish frequent updates and latest developments on them would be an advantage.
Here, we introduce the JBMS thematic series on Biomedical Ontologies. The aim of the series is to disseminate the latest developments in research on biomedical ontologies and provide a venue for publishing newly developed ontologies, updates to existing ontologies as well as methodological advances, and selected contributions from conferences and workshops. We aim to give this thematic series a central role in the exploration of ongoing research in biomedical ontologies and intend to work closely together with the research community towards this aim. Researchers and working groups are encouraged to provide feedback on novel developments and special topics to be integrated into the existing publication cycles.
PMCID: PMC4006457  PMID: 24602198
3.  The Semanticscience Integrated Ontology (SIO) for biomedical research and knowledge discovery 
The Semanticscience Integrated Ontology (SIO) is an ontology to facilitate biomedical knowledge discovery. SIO features a simple upper level comprised of essential types and relations for the rich description of arbitrary (real, hypothesized, virtual, fictional) objects, processes and their attributes. SIO specifies simple design patterns to describe and associate qualities, capabilities, functions, quantities, and informational entities including textual, geometrical, and mathematical entities, and provides specific extensions in the domains of chemistry, biology, biochemistry, and bioinformatics. SIO provides an ontological foundation for the Bio2RDF linked data for the life sciences project and is used for semantic integration and discovery for SADI-based semantic web services. SIO is freely available to all users under a creative commons by attribution license. See website for further information:
PMCID: PMC4015691  PMID: 24602174
4.  BioHackathon series in 2011 and 2012: penetration of ontology and linked data in life science domains 
Katayama, Toshiaki | Wilkinson, Mark D | Aoki-Kinoshita, Kiyoko F | Kawashima, Shuichi | Yamamoto, Yasunori | Yamaguchi, Atsuko | Okamoto, Shinobu | Kawano, Shin | Kim, Jin-Dong | Wang, Yue | Wu, Hongyan | Kano, Yoshinobu | Ono, Hiromasa | Bono, Hidemasa | Kocbek, Simon | Aerts, Jan | Akune, Yukie | Antezana, Erick | Arakawa, Kazuharu | Aranda, Bruno | Baran, Joachim | Bolleman, Jerven | Bonnal, Raoul JP | Buttigieg, Pier Luigi | Campbell, Matthew P | Chen, Yi-an | Chiba, Hirokazu | Cock, Peter JA | Cohen, K Bretonnel | Constantin, Alexandru | Duck, Geraint | Dumontier, Michel | Fujisawa, Takatomo | Fujiwara, Toyofumi | Goto, Naohisa | Hoehndorf, Robert | Igarashi, Yoshinobu | Itaya, Hidetoshi | Ito, Maori | Iwasaki, Wataru | Kalaš, Matúš | Katoda, Takeo | Kim, Taehong | Kokubu, Anna | Komiyama, Yusuke | Kotera, Masaaki | Laibe, Camille | Lapp, Hilmar | Lütteke, Thomas | Marshall, M Scott | Mori, Takaaki | Mori, Hiroshi | Morita, Mizuki | Murakami, Katsuhiko | Nakao, Mitsuteru | Narimatsu, Hisashi | Nishide, Hiroyo | Nishimura, Yosuke | Nystrom-Persson, Johan | Ogishima, Soichi | Okamura, Yasunobu | Okuda, Shujiro | Oshita, Kazuki | Packer, Nicki H | Prins, Pjotr | Ranzinger, Rene | Rocca-Serra, Philippe | Sansone, Susanna | Sawaki, Hiromichi | Shin, Sung-Ho | Splendiani, Andrea | Strozzi, Francesco | Tadaka, Shu | Toukach, Philip | Uchiyama, Ikuo | Umezaki, Masahito | Vos, Rutger | Whetzel, Patricia L | Yamada, Issaku | Yamasaki, Chisato | Yamashita, Riu | York, William S | Zmasek, Christian M | Kawamoto, Shoko | Takagi, Toshihisa
The application of semantic technologies to the integration of biological data and the interoperability of bioinformatics analysis and visualization tools has been the common theme of a series of annual BioHackathons hosted in Japan for the past five years. Here we provide a review of the activities and outcomes from the BioHackathons held in 2011 in Kyoto and 2012 in Toyama. In order to efficiently implement semantic technologies in the life sciences, participants formed various sub-groups and worked on the following topics: Resource Description Framework (RDF) models for specific domains, text mining of the literature, ontology development, essential metadata for biological databases, platforms to enable efficient Semantic Web technology development and interoperability, and the development of applications for Semantic Web data. In this review, we briefly introduce the themes covered by these sub-groups. The observations made, conclusions drawn, and software development projects that emerged from these activities are discussed.
PMCID: PMC3978116  PMID: 24495517
BioHackathon; Bioinformatics; Semantic Web; Web services; Ontology; Visualization; Knowledge representation; Databases; Semantic interoperability; Data models; Data sharing; Data integration
5.  Mouse model phenotypes provide information about human drug targets 
Bioinformatics  2013;30(5):719-725.
Motivation: Methods for computational drug target identification use information from diverse information sources to predict or prioritize drug targets for known drugs. One set of resources that has been relatively neglected for drug repurposing is animal model phenotype.
Results: We investigate the use of mouse model phenotypes for drug target identification. To achieve this goal, we first integrate mouse model phenotypes and drug effects, and then systematically compare the phenotypic similarity between mouse models and drug effect profiles. We find a high similarity between phenotypes resulting from loss-of-function mutations and drug effects resulting from the inhibition of a protein through a drug action, and demonstrate how this approach can be used to suggest candidate drug targets.
Availability and implementation: Analysis code and supplementary data files are available on the project Web site at
Contact: or
Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
PMCID: PMC3933875  PMID: 24158600
6.  Evaluating gold standard corpora against gene/protein tagging solutions and lexical resources 
The identification of protein and gene names (PGNs) from the scientific literature requires semantic resources: Terminological and lexical resources deliver the term candidates into PGN tagging solutions and the gold standard corpora (GSC) train them to identify term parameters and contextual features. Ideally all three resources, i.e. corpora, lexica and taggers, cover the same domain knowledge, and thus support identification of the same types of PGNs and cover all of them. Unfortunately, none of the three serves as a predominant standard and for this reason it is worth exploring, how these three resources comply with each other. We systematically compare different PGN taggers against publicly available corpora and analyze the impact of the included lexical resource in their performance. In particular, we determine the performance gains through false positive filtering, which contributes to the disambiguation of identified PGNs.
In general, machine learning approaches (ML-Tag) for PGN tagging show higher F1-measure performance against the BioCreative-II and Jnlpba GSCs (exact matching), whereas the lexicon based approaches (LexTag) in combination with disambiguation methods show better results on FsuPrge and PennBio. The ML-Tag solutions balance precision and recall, whereas the LexTag solutions have different precision and recall profiles at the same F1-measure across all corpora. Higher recall is achieved with larger lexical resources, which also introduce more noise (false positive results). The ML-Tag solutions certainly perform best, if the test corpus is from the same GSC as the training corpus. As expected, the false negative errors characterize the test corpora and – on the other hand – the profiles of the false positive mistakes characterize the tagging solutions. Lex-Tag solutions that are based on a large terminological resource in combination with false positive filtering produce better results, which, in addition, provide concept identifiers from a knowledge source in contrast to ML-Tag solutions.
The standard ML-Tag solutions achieve high performance, but not across all corpora, and thus should be trained using several different corpora to reduce possible biases. The LexTag solutions have different profiles for their precision and recall performance, but with similar F1-measure. This result is surprising and suggests that they cover a portion of the most common naming standards, but cope differently with the term variability across the corpora. The false positive filtering applied to LexTag solutions does improve the results by increasing their precision without compromising significantly their recall. The harmonisation of the annotation schemes in combination with standardized lexical resources in the tagging solutions will enable their comparability and will pave the way for a shared standard.
PMCID: PMC4021975  PMID: 24112383
7.  Evaluation and Cross-Comparison of Lexical Entities of Biological Interest (LexEBI) 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(10):e75185.
Biomedical entities, their identifiers and names, are essential in the representation of biomedical facts and knowledge. In the same way, the complete set of biomedical and chemical terms, i.e. the biomedical “term space” (the “Lexeome”), forms a key resource to achieve the full integration of the scientific literature with biomedical data resources: any identified named entity can immediately be normalized to the correct database entry. This goal does not only require that we are aware of all existing terms, but would also profit from knowing all their senses and their semantic interpretation (ambiguities, nestedness).
This study compiles a resource for lexical terms of biomedical interest in a standard format (called “LexEBI”), determines the overall number of terms, their reuse in different resources and the nestedness of terms. LexEBI comprises references for protein and gene entries and their term variants and chemical entities amongst other terms. In addition, disease terms have been identified from Medline and PubmedCentral and added to LexEBI. Our analysis demonstrates that the baseforms of terms from the different semantic types show only little polysemous use. Nonetheless, the term variants of protein and gene names (PGNs) frequently contain species mentions, which should have been avoided according to protein annotation guidelines. Furthermore, the protein and gene entities as well as the chemical entities, both do comprise enzymes leading to hierarchical polysemy, and a large portion of PGNs make reference to a chemical entity. Altogether, according to our analysis based on the Medline distribution, 401,869 unique PGNs in the documents contain a reference to 25,022 chemical entities, 3,125 disease terms or 1,576 species mentions.
LexEBI delivers the complete biomedical and chemical Lexeome in a standardized representation ( The resource provides the disease terms as open source content, and fully interlinks terms across resources.
PMCID: PMC3790750  PMID: 24124474
8.  Computational tools for comparative phenomics; the role and promise of ontologies 
A major aim of the biological sciences is to gain an understanding of human physiology and disease. One important step towards such a goal is the discovery of the function of genes that will lead to better understanding of the physiology and pathophysiology of organisms ultimately providing better understanding, diagnosis, and therapy. Our increasing ability to phenotypically characterise genetic variants of model organisms coupled with systematic and hypothesis-driven mutagenesis is resulting in a wealth of information that could potentially provide insight to the functions of all genes in an organism. The challenge we are now facing is to develop computational methods that can integrate and analyse such data. The introduction of formal ontologies that make their semantics explicit and accessible to automated reasoning promises the tantalizing possibility of standardizing biomedical knowledge allowing for novel, powerful queries that bridge multiple domains, disciplines, species and levels of granularity. We review recent computational approaches that facilitate the integration of experimental data from model organisms with clinical observations in humans. These methods foster novel cross species analysis approaches, thereby enabling comparative phenomics and leading to the potential of translating basic discoveries from the model systems into diagnostic and therapeutic advances at the clinical level.
PMCID: PMC3488439  PMID: 22814867
9.  Identifying aberrant pathways through integrated analysis of knowledge in pharmacogenomics 
Bioinformatics  2012;28(16):2169-2175.
Motivation: Many complex diseases are the result of abnormal pathway functions instead of single abnormalities. Disease diagnosis and intervention strategies must target these pathways while minimizing the interference with normal physiological processes. Large-scale identification of disease pathways and chemicals that may be used to perturb them requires the integration of information about drugs, genes, diseases and pathways. This information is currently distributed over several pharmacogenomics databases. An integrated analysis of the information in these databases can reveal disease pathways and facilitate novel biomedical analyses.
Results: We demonstrate how to integrate pharmacogenomics databases through integration of the biomedical ontologies that are used as meta-data in these databases. The additional background knowledge in these ontologies can then be used to enable novel analyses. We identify disease pathways using a novel multi-ontology enrichment analysis over the Human Disease Ontology, and we identify significant associations between chemicals and pathways using an enrichment analysis over a chemical ontology. The drug–pathway and disease–pathway associations are a valuable resource for research in disease and drug mechanisms and can be used to improve computational drug repurposing.
PMCID: PMC3493115  PMID: 22711793
10.  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
11.  Mouse genetic and phenotypic resources for human genetics 
Human mutation  2012;33(5):826-836.
The use of model organisms to provide information on gene function has proved to be a powerful approach to our understanding of both human disease and fundamental mammalian biology. Large-scale community projects using mice, based on forward and reverse genetics, and now the pan-genomic phenotyping efforts of the International Mouse Phenotyping Consortium (IMPC), are generating resources on an unprecedented scale which will be extremely valuable to human genetics and medicine. We discuss the nature and availability of data, mice and ES cells from these large-scale programmes, the use of these resources to help prioritise and validate candidate genes in human genetic association studies, and how they can improve our understanding of the underlying pathobiology of human disease.
PMCID: PMC3473354  PMID: 22422677
mouse; genetics; phenotyping; human; ontology; GWAS; CNV; database
12.  Systematic Analysis of Experimental Phenotype Data Reveals Gene Functions 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(4):e60847.
High-throughput phenotyping projects in model organisms have the potential to improve our understanding of gene functions and their role in living organisms. We have developed a computational, knowledge-based approach to automatically infer gene functions from phenotypic manifestations and applied this approach to yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae), nematode worm (Caenorhabditis elegans), zebrafish (Danio rerio), fruitfly (Drosophila melanogaster) and mouse (Mus musculus) phenotypes. Our approach is based on the assumption that, if a mutation in a gene leads to a phenotypic abnormality in a process , then must have been involved in , either directly or indirectly. We systematically analyze recorded phenotypes in animal models using the formal definitions created for phenotype ontologies. We evaluate the validity of the inferred functions manually and by demonstrating a significant improvement in predicting genetic interactions and protein-protein interactions based on functional similarity. Our knowledge-based approach is generally applicable to phenotypes recorded in model organism databases, including phenotypes from large-scale, high throughput community projects whose primary mode of dissemination is direct publication on-line rather than in the literature.
PMCID: PMC3628905  PMID: 23626672
13.  Representing physiological processes and their participants with PhysioMaps 
Journal of Biomedical Semantics  2013;4(Suppl 1):S2.
As the number and size of biological knowledge resources for physiology grows, researchers need improved tools for searching and integrating knowledge and physiological models. Unfortunately, current resources—databases, simulation models, and knowledge bases, for example—are only occasionally and idiosyncratically explicit about the semantics of the biological entities and processes that they describe.
We present a formal approach, based on the semantics of biophysics as represented in the Ontology of Physics for Biology, that divides physiological knowledge into three partitions: structural knowledge, process knowledge and biophysical knowledge. We then computationally integrate these partitions across multiple structural and biophysical domains as computable ontologies by which such knowledge can be archived, reused, and displayed. Our key result is the semi-automatic parsing of biosimulation model code into PhysioMaps that can be displayed and interrogated for qualitative responses to hypothetical perturbations.
Strong, explicit semantics of biophysics can provide a formal, computational basis for integrating physiological knowledge in a manner that supports visualization of the physiological content of biosimulation models across spatial scales and biophysical domains.
PMCID: PMC3632997  PMID: 23735231
14.  An integrative, translational approach to understanding rare and orphan genetically based diseases 
Interface Focus  2013;3(2):20120055.
PhenomeNet is an approach for integrating phenotypes across species and identifying candidate genes for genetic diseases based on the similarity between a disease and animal model phenotypes. In contrast to ‘guilt-by-association’ approaches, PhenomeNet relies exclusively on the comparison of phenotypes to suggest candidate genes, and can, therefore, be applied to study the molecular basis of rare and orphan diseases for which the molecular basis is unknown. In addition to disease phenotypes from the Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (OMIM) database, we have now integrated the clinical signs from Orphanet into PhenomeNet. We demonstrate that our approach can efficiently identify known candidate genes for genetic diseases in Orphanet and OMIM. Furthermore, we find evidence that mutations in the HIP1 gene might cause Bassoe syndrome, a rare disorder with unknown genetic aetiology. Our results demonstrate that integration and computational analysis of human disease and animal model phenotypes using PhenomeNet has the potential to reveal novel insights into the pathobiology underlying genetic diseases.
PMCID: PMC3638468  PMID: 23853703
phenotype; animal model; rare disease; orphan disease; Orphanet; biomedical informatics
15.  The Units Ontology: a tool for integrating units of measurement in science 
Units are basic scientific tools that render meaning to numerical data. Their standardization and formalization caters for the report, exchange, process, reproducibility and integration of quantitative measurements. Ontologies are means that facilitate the integration of data and knowledge allowing interoperability and semantic information processing between diverse biomedical resources and domains. Here, we present the Units Ontology (UO), an ontology currently being used in many scientific resources for the standardized description of units of measurements.
PMCID: PMC3468815  PMID: 23060432
16.  Quantitative comparison of mapping methods between Human and Mammalian Phenotype Ontology 
Journal of Biomedical Semantics  2012;3(Suppl 2):S1.
Researchers use animal studies to better understand human diseases. In recent years, large-scale phenotype studies such as Phenoscape and EuroPhenome have been initiated to identify genetic causes of a species' phenome. Species-specific phenotype ontologies are required to capture and report about all findings and to automatically infer results relevant to human diseases. The integration of the different phenotype ontologies into a coherent framework is necessary to achieve interoperability for cross-species research.
Here, we investigate the quality and completeness of two different methods to align the Human Phenotype Ontology and the Mammalian Phenotype Ontology. The first method combines lexical matching with inference over the ontologies' taxonomic structures, while the second method uses a mapping algorithm based on the formal definitions of the ontologies. Neither method could map all concepts. Despite the formal definitions method provides mappings for more concepts than does the lexical matching method, it does not outperform the lexical matching in a biological use case. Our results suggest that combining both approaches will yield a better mappings in terms of completeness, specificity and application purposes.
PMCID: PMC3448526  PMID: 23046555
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.  Ontology-based cross-species integration and analysis of Saccharomyces cerevisiae phenotypes 
Journal of Biomedical Semantics  2012;3(Suppl 2):S6.
Ontologies are widely used in the biomedical community for annotation and integration of databases. Formal definitions can relate classes from different ontologies and thereby integrate data across different levels of granularity, domains and species. We have applied this methodology to the Ascomycete Phenotype Ontology (APO), enabling the reuse of various orthogonal ontologies and we have converted the phenotype associated data found in the SGD following our proposed patterns. We have integrated the resulting data in the cross-species phenotype network PhenomeNET, and we make both the cross-species integration of yeast phenotypes and a similarity-based comparison of yeast phenotypes across species available in the PhenomeBrowser. Furthermore, we utilize our definitions and the yeast phenotype annotations to suggest novel functional annotations of gene products in yeast.
PMCID: PMC3448529  PMID: 23046642
19.  Evaluation of research in biomedical ontologies 
Briefings in Bioinformatics  2012;14(6):696-712.
Ontologies are now pervasive in biomedicine, where they serve as a means to standardize terminology, to enable access to domain knowledge, to verify data consistency and to facilitate integrative analyses over heterogeneous biomedical data. For this purpose, research on biomedical ontologies applies theories and methods from diverse disciplines such as information management, knowledge representation, cognitive science, linguistics and philosophy. Depending on the desired applications in which ontologies are being applied, the evaluation of research in biomedical ontologies must follow different strategies. Here, we provide a classification of research problems in which ontologies are being applied, focusing on the use of ontologies in basic and translational research, and we demonstrate how research results in biomedical ontologies can be evaluated. The evaluation strategies depend on the desired application and measure the success of using an ontology for a particular biomedical problem. For many applications, the success can be quantified, thereby facilitating the objective evaluation and comparison of research in biomedical ontology. The objective, quantifiable comparison of research results based on scientific applications opens up the possibility for systematically improving the utility of ontologies in biomedical research.
PMCID: PMC3888109  PMID: 22962340
biomedical ontology; quantitative biology; ontology evaluation; evaluation criteria; ontology-based applications
20.  New approaches to the representation and analysis of phenotype knowledge in human diseases and their animal models 
Briefings in Functional Genomics  2011;10(5):258-265.
The systematic investigation of the phenotypes associated with genotypes in model organisms holds the promise of revealing genotype–phenotype relations directly and without additional, intermediate inferences. Large-scale projects are now underway to catalog the complete phenome of a species, notably the mouse. With the increasing amount of phenotype information becoming available, a major challenge that biology faces today is the systematic analysis of this information and the translation of research results across species and into an improved understanding of human disease. The challenge is to integrate and combine phenotype descriptions within a species and to systematically relate them to phenotype descriptions in other species, in order to form a comprehensive understanding of the relations between those phenotypes and the genotypes involved in human disease. We distinguish between two major approaches for comparative phenotype analyses: the first relies on evolutionary relations to bridge the species gap, while the other approach compares phenotypes directly. In particular, the direct comparison of phenotypes relies heavily on the quality and coherence of phenotype and disease databases. We discuss major achievements and future challenges for these databases in light of their potential to contribute to the understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying human disease. In particular, we discuss how the use of ontologies and automated reasoning can significantly contribute to the analysis of phenotypes and demonstrate their potential for enabling translational research.
PMCID: PMC3189694  PMID: 21987712
phenotype; animal model; disease; database; comparative phenomics; ontology
21.  Improving Disease Gene Prioritization by Comparing the Semantic Similarity of Phenotypes in Mice with Those of Human Diseases 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(6):e38937.
Despite considerable progress in understanding the molecular origins of hereditary human diseases, the molecular basis of several thousand genetic diseases still remains unknown. High-throughput phenotype studies are underway to systematically assess the phenotype outcome of targeted mutations in model organisms. Thus, comparing the similarity between experimentally identified phenotypes and the phenotypes associated with human diseases can be used to suggest causal genes underlying a disease. In this manuscript, we present a method for disease gene prioritization based on comparing phenotypes of mouse models with those of human diseases. For this purpose, either human disease phenotypes are “translated” into a mouse-based representation (using the Mammalian Phenotype Ontology), or mouse phenotypes are “translated” into a human-based representation (using the Human Phenotype Ontology). We apply a measure of semantic similarity and rank experimentally identified phenotypes in mice with respect to their phenotypic similarity to human diseases. Our method is evaluated on manually curated and experimentally verified gene–disease associations for human and for mouse. We evaluate our approach using a Receiver Operating Characteristic (ROC) analysis and obtain an area under the ROC curve of up to . Furthermore, we are able to confirm previous results that the Vax1 gene is involved in Septo-Optic Dysplasia and suggest Gdf6 and Marcks as further potential candidates. Our method significantly outperforms previous phenotype-based approaches of prioritizing gene–disease associations. To enable the adaption of our method to the analysis of other phenotype data, our software and prioritization results are freely available under a BSD licence at Furthermore, our method has been integrated in PhenomeNET and the results can be explored using the PhenomeBrowser at
PMCID: PMC3375301  PMID: 22719993
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.  A common layer of interoperability for biomedical ontologies based on OWL EL 
Bioinformatics  2011;27(7):1001-1008.
Motivation: Ontologies are essential in biomedical research due to their ability to semantically integrate content from different scientific databases and resources. Their application improves capabilities for querying and mining biological knowledge. An increasing number of ontologies is being developed for this purpose, and considerable effort is invested into formally defining them in order to represent their semantics explicitly. However, current biomedical ontologies do not facilitate data integration and interoperability yet, since reasoning over these ontologies is very complex and cannot be performed efficiently or is even impossible. We propose the use of less expressive subsets of ontology representation languages to enable efficient reasoning and achieve the goal of genuine interoperability between ontologies.
Results: We present and evaluate EL Vira, a framework that transforms OWL ontologies into the OWL EL subset, thereby enabling the use of tractable reasoning. We illustrate which OWL constructs and inferences are kept and lost following the conversion and demonstrate the performance gain of reasoning indicated by the significant reduction of processing time. We applied EL Vira to the open biomedical ontologies and provide a repository of ontologies resulting from this conversion. EL Vira creates a common layer of ontological interoperability that, for the first time, enables the creation of software solutions that can employ biomedical ontologies to perform inferences and answer complex queries to support scientific analyses.
Availability and implementation: The EL Vira software is available from and converted OBO ontologies and their mappings are available from
PMCID: PMC3065691  PMID: 21343142
24.  Ontology design patterns to disambiguate relations between genes and gene products in GENIA 
Journal of Biomedical Semantics  2011;2(Suppl 5):S1.
Annotated reference corpora play an important role in biomedical information extraction. A semantic annotation of the natural language texts in these reference corpora using formal ontologies is challenging due to the inherent ambiguity of natural language. The provision of formal definitions and axioms for semantic annotations offers the means for ensuring consistency as well as enables the development of verifiable annotation guidelines. Consistent semantic annotations facilitate the automatic discovery of new information through deductive inferences.
We provide a formal characterization of the relations used in the recent GENIA corpus annotations. For this purpose, we both select existing axiom systems based on the desired properties of the relations within the domain and develop new axioms for several relations. To apply this ontology of relations to the semantic annotation of text corpora, we implement two ontology design patterns. In addition, we provide a software application to convert annotated GENIA abstracts into OWL ontologies by combining both the ontology of relations and the design patterns. As a result, the GENIA abstracts become available as OWL ontologies and are amenable for automated verification, deductive inferences and other knowledge-based applications.
Documentation, implementation and examples are available from
PMCID: PMC3239299  PMID: 22166341
25.  The RICORDO approach to semantic interoperability for biomedical data and models: strategy, standards and solutions 
BMC Research Notes  2011;4:313.
The practice and research of medicine generates considerable quantities of data and model resources (DMRs). Although in principle biomedical resources are re-usable, in practice few can currently be shared. In particular, the clinical communities in physiology and pharmacology research, as well as medical education, (i.e. PPME communities) are facing considerable operational and technical obstacles in sharing data and models.
We outline the efforts of the PPME communities to achieve automated semantic interoperability for clinical resource documentation in collaboration with the RICORDO project. Current community practices in resource documentation and knowledge management are overviewed. Furthermore, requirements and improvements sought by the PPME communities to current documentation practices are discussed. The RICORDO plan and effort in creating a representational framework and associated open software toolkit for the automated management of PPME metadata resources is also described.
RICORDO is providing the PPME community with tools to effect, share and reason over clinical resource annotations. This work is contributing to the semantic interoperability of DMRs through ontology-based annotation by (i) supporting more effective navigation and re-use of clinical DMRs, as well as (ii) sustaining interoperability operations based on the criterion of biological similarity. Operations facilitated by RICORDO will range from automated dataset matching to model merging and managing complex simulation workflows. In effect, RICORDO is contributing to community standards for resource sharing and interoperability.
PMCID: PMC3192696  PMID: 21878109

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