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Mamm Genome. 2007 Jul;18(6-7):402-11. Epub 2007 Jun 14.

Systems developmental biology: the use of ontologies in annotating models and in identifying gene function within and across species.

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School of Biomedical Sciences, Edinburgh University, Edinburgh, EH8 9XD, UK.


Systems developmental biology is an approach to the study of embryogenesis that attempts to analyze complex developmental processes through integrating the roles of their molecular, cellular, and tissue participants within a computational framework. This article discusses ways of annotating these participants using standard terms and IDs now available in public ontologies (these are areas of hierarchical knowledge formalized to be computationally accessible) for tissues, cells, and processes. Such annotations bring two types of benefit. The first comes from using standard terms: This allows linkage to other resources that use them (e.g., GXD, the gene-expression [G-E] database for mouse development). The second comes from the annotation procedure itself: This can lead to the identification of common processes that are used in very different and apparently unrelated events, even in other organisms. One implication of this is the potential for identifying the genes underpinning common developmental processes in different tissues through Boolean analysis of their G-E profiles. While it is easiest to do this for single organisms, the approach is extendable to analyzing similar processes in different organisms. Although the full computational infrastructure for such an analysis has yet to be put in place, two examples are briefly considered as illustration. First, the early development of the mouse urogenital system shows how a line of development can be graphically formalized using ontologies. Second, Boolean analysis of the G-E profiles of the mesenchyme-to-epithelium transitions that take place during mouse development suggest Lhx1, Foxc1, and Meox1 as candidate transcription factors for mediating this process.

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