Semantic Web Compatible Names and Descriptions for Organisms

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Presented at the AGU Fall Meeting 2012



Modern scientific names are critical for understanding the biological literature and provide a valuable way to understand evolutionary relationships. To validly publish a name, a description is required to separate the described group of organisms from those described by other names at the same level of the taxonomic hierarchy. The frequent revision of descriptions due to new evolutionary evidence has lead to situations where a single given scientific name may over time have multiple descriptions associated with it and a given published description may apply to multiple scientific names. Because of these many-to-many relationships between scientific names and descriptions, the usage of scientific names as a proxy for descriptions is inevitably ambiguous. Another issue lies in the fact that the precise application of scientific names often requires careful microscopic work, or increasingly, genetic sequencing, as scientific names are focused on the evolutionary relatedness between and within named groups such as species, genera, families, etc. This is problematic to many audiences, especially field biologists, who often do not have access to the instruments and tools required to make identifications on a microscopic or genetic basis. To better connect scientific names to descriptions and find a more convenient way to support computer assisted identification, we proposed the Semantic Vernacular System, a novel naming system that creates named, machine-interpretable descriptions for groups of organisms, and is compatible with the Semantic Web. Unlike the evolutionary relationship based scientific naming system, it emphasizes the observable features of organisms. By independently naming the descriptions composed of sets of observational features, as well as maintaining connections to scientific names, it preserves the observational data used to identify organisms. The system is designed to support a peer-review mechanism for creating new names, and uses a controlled vocabulary encoded in the Web Ontology Language to represent the observational features. A prototype of the system is currently under development in collaboration with the Mushroom Observer website. It allows users to propose new names and descriptions for fungi, provide feedback on those proposals, and ultimately have them formally approved. It relies on SPARQL queries and semantic reasoning for data management. This effort will offer the mycology community a knowledge base of fungal observational features and a tool for identifying fungal observations. It will also serve as an operational specification of how the Semantic Vernacular System can be used in practice in one scientific community (in this case mycology).


DateCreated ByLink
December 3, 2012
Han WangDownload
October 5, 2012
Han WangDownload

Related Projects:

SVF LogoSemantic Vernaculars for Fungi (SVF)
Principal Investigator: Deborah L. McGuinness
Co Investigator: Nathan Wilson
Description: Fungi are typically referred to by either scientific or common names. Neither of these terminologies meets the need for well-defined, persistent definitions of groups of fungi who exhibit similar macroscopic qualities, but may be dissimilar genetically. We propose a community-developed vocabulary that can be used to identify mushrooms based on properties that can be observed in the field (without microscopic or genomic examination). We show how an ontology can be used to develop and organize the terms and definitions and to enable applications based on the vocabulary.

Related Research Areas:

Semantic eScience
Lead Professor: Peter Fox
Science has fully entered a new mode of operation. E-science, defined as a combination of science, informatics, computer science, cyberinfrastructure and information technology is changing the way all of these disciplines do both their individual and collaborative work.
As semantic technologies have been gaining momentum in various e-Science areas (for example, W3C's new interest group for semantic web health care and life science), it is important to offer semantic-based methodologies, tools, middleware to facilitate scientific knowledge modeling, logical-based hypothesis checking, semantic data integration and application composition, integrated knowledge discovery and data analyzing for different e-Science applications.
Partially influenced by the Artificial Intelligence community, the Semantic Web researchers have largely focused on formal aspects of semantic representation languages or general-purpose semantic application development, with inadequate consideration of requirements from specific science areas. On the other hand, general science researchers are growing ever more dependent on the web, but they have no coherent agenda for exploring the emerging trends on the semantic web technologies. It urgently requires the development of a multi-disciplinary field to foster the growth and development of e-Science applications based on the semantic technologies and related knowledge-based approaches.

Concepts: eScience