Clarifying Concepts and Terms in Biodiversity Informatics

pier.buttigieg [ at ]


“If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success.” - Confucius, Analects, Book XIII, Chapter 3, verses 4-7, translated by James Legge Two workshops (hereafter described as “workshops”) were held in 2012, which brought together domain experts from genomic and biodiversity informatics, information modeling and biology, to clarify concepts and terms at the intersection of these domains. These workshops grew out of efforts sponsored by the NSF funded Resource Coordination Network (RCN) project for GSC [1] (RCN4GSC, hosted at UCSD, with John Wooley as PI) to reconcile terms from the Darwin Core (DwC) [2] vocabulary and with those in the MIxS family of checklists (Minimum Information about Any Type of Sequence) [3]. The original RCN4GSC meetings were able to align many terms between DwC and MIxS, finding both common and complementary terms. However, deciding exactly what constitutes the concept of a sample, a specimen, and an occurrence [4] to satisfy the needs of all use cases proved difficult, especially given the wide variety of sampling strategies employed within and between communities. Further, participants in the initial RCN4GSC workshops needed additional guidance on how to relate these entities to processes that act upon them and the environments in which organisms live. These issues provided the motivation for the workshops described below. The two workshops drew largely from experiences of the Basic Formal Ontology (BFO) [5] and were led by Barry Smith, State University of New York at Buffalo. We chose to interact with Smith based on his successful interactions with the GSC in developing the Environment Ontology (EnvO) [6] and also, on the ability of BFO to unite previously disconnected ontologies in the medical domain [7]. The first workshop addressed term definitions in biodiversity informatics, working within the BFO framework, while the second workshop developed a prototype Bio-Collections Ontology, dealing with samples and processes acting on samples. Concurrent with these workshops were two ongoing efforts involving data acquisition, visualization, and analysis that rely on a solid conceptual understanding of samples, specimens, and occurrences. These implementations are included in this report to show practical applications of term clarification. Finally, this report provides a discussion of some of the next steps discussed during the workshops.

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DOI 10.4056/sigs.3907833

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Deck, J. , Barker, K. , Beaman, R. , Buttigieg, P. L. , Dröge, G. , Guralnick, R. , Miller, C. , Tuama, É. Ó. , Murrell, Z. , Parr, C. , Robbins, B. , Schigel, D. , Stucky, B. , Walls, R. , Wieczorek, J. , Morrison, N. and Wooley, J. (2013): Clarifying Concepts and Terms in Biodiversity Informatics , Standards in Genomic Sciences, 8 (2), pp. 352-359 . doi: 10.4056/sigs.3907833


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