My Experience as a Phenoscape Training Fellow

November 22, 2011

While working to describe two species of lizardfish (Synodus) with Carole Baldwin at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, she received an email from Paula Mabee asking if she knew or had any students interested in working on the Phenoscape Project. I had realized that with advances in technology and communication, evolutionary biology and all science was headed towards a future of large-scale interdisciplinary collaborations to help address big questions and make tools and data readily available. Therefore, I immediately jumped on the opportunity to work on Phenoscape!

With the support of funding from DeepFin, I started my internship with Phenoscape at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) in August 2011. My three months here at NESCent have flown by and even though it is my last day, I am just as excited about the project as the day I started! Working with Wasial Dahdul, Peter Midford and Jim Balhoff has enabled me to learn and understand a great deal about databases, collaboration and morphology. Phenoscape has completely changed the way I think about phenotypic characters. Breaking them down into logical statements in Phenex really allows you to understand a character as it fits in the bigger picture. I was able to work with Wasila in forging interdisciplinary ties by contributing to other ontologies and databases, such as PATO and PaleoDB. Additionally, working to assist in the expansion of Phenoscape to incorporate all vertebrates taught me a lot about the origins of vertebrates and the plethora of prehistoric life I did not realize existed- including my new personal favorite prehistoric fish, Jagorina!

NESCent is an amazing place. Being one of the few people here without a higher degree or a long list of publications under their belt, I was initially a little intimidated. However, the informatics group, post-docs and professors have been great and pushed me to participate in seminars and intellectual discussion. This is a stimulating environment that facilitates thinking outside the box and looking at bigger picture issues in evolutionary biology.

I am excited to continue my work on Phenoscape offsite back at the Smithsonian and I hope to contribute throughout my graduate career in Dr. Brian Sidlauskas’s (former NESCentian and Phenoscape tester and contributor) lab at Oregon State University.

Ben Frable
Graduate Student, Oregon State University
Student Researcher, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Introducing the Vertebrate Anatomy Ontology

January 12, 2011

The Vertebrate Anatomy Ontology (VAO) was recently developed as a high-level, bridging ontology for existing and future single species (e.g., zebrafish, mouse, Xenopus) and multispecies (teleosts, amphibians) vertebrate ontologies. We initiated VAO at a Phenoscape workshop held at NESCent in April 2010. VAO was developed to accommodate the various ways that biologists classify bones and cartilages, as distinct elements and tissue types, and based on developmental and locational criteria. After substantial review by experts in comparative anatomy, paleontology, systematics, and anatomy ontologies, VAO was submitted to the Open Biological and Biomedical Ontologies (OBO) Foundry and committed in December 2010.  The ontology currently contains 127 defined terms and 63 synonyms for cells, tissues, skeletal elements, skeletal system parts, and biological processes. Cross references to several existing ontologies (Cell Type Ontology, Common Anatomy Reference Ontology, GO Biological Process) are included, thus connecting vertebrate ‘sub’ onotologies to a wealth of additional data.  A mansucript detailing the VAO and evaluating the benefits of its use is in preparation.

Vertebrate skeletal anatomy workshop

May 4, 2010

Probably the most important branch of an anatomy ontology for vertebrates – at least from the standpoint of comparative morphologists, paleontologists, systematists – is the skeleton.  We invited a small group of bone and cartilage experts to come to a workshop at NESCent April 9-10, 2010, with the goal of reviewing, revising, and altogether enhancing the skeletal branch of the various vertebrate anatomy ontologies.  We had representation from the amphibian and teleost multispecies anatomy ontologies, the vertebrate model organism ontologies (zebrafish, Xenopus, mouse), and the cell ontology, as well as expert ontologists to advise on best representation (see our wiki page for their names and slides from their brief introductory presentations).  The workshop was productive beyond our expectations: we produced a ‘generic’ skeletal ontology that can be plugged into all vertebrate anatomy ontologies.  The files (including the useful cmap files) are under review by workshop participants at the moment, and we will be posting the outcome as a Vertebrate Skeletal Ontology in the obo foundry within the month.  Let us know if you want to review some giant spreadsheets of bone terms and relationships in the next few weeks….

New article on the Teleost Anatomy Ontology published in Systematic Biology

March 30, 2010

We are pleased to announce the publication of the article “The Teleost Anatomy Ontology: Anatomical Representation for the Genomics Age” in Systematic Biology.  The paper describes how we developed this multispecies anatomy ontology for the annotation of systematic characters, and general solutions to various challenges in representing anatomical structures across a diverse clade of fishes.

Open access links to online versions of the paper are given below:

Wasila M. Dahdul; John G. Lundberg; Peter E. Midford; James P. Balhoff; Hilmar Lapp; Todd J. Vision; Melissa A. Haendel; Monte Westerfield; Paula M. Mabee.  2010.  The Teleost Anatomy Ontology: Anatomical Representation for the Genomics Age.  Systematic Biology.  View full text or download PDF.

New fossil tells how piranhas got their teeth

August 16, 2009

A recent publication on Megapiranha paranensis from Phenoscape curators Wasila Dahdul and John Lundberg is in the news!

click for full-zise image

DURHAM, N.C. — How did piranhas — the legendary freshwater fish with the razor bite — get their telltale teeth? Researchers from Argentina, the United States and Venezuela have uncovered the jawbone of a striking transitional fossil that sheds light on this question. Named Megapiranha paranensis, this previously unknown fossil fish bridges the evolutionary gap between flesh-eating piranhas and their plant-eating cousins. Read the rest of this entry »

The Teleost Anatomy Ontology

May 22, 2008

The Teleost Anatomy Ontology (TAO) is a multi-species anatomy ontology for teleost fishes.  In this first post about the TAO, I’ll introduce the structure of the ontology and its development, and discuss some of the challenges we’ve come across in building a multi-species ontology. You can browse the TAO by using the NCBO BioPortal.

Read the rest of this entry »