Send to

Choose Destination
Genes Nutr. 2018 Apr 30;13:12. doi: 10.1186/s12263-018-0601-y. eCollection 2018.

ONS: an ontology for a standardized description of interventions and observational studies in nutrition.

Author information

1Institute of Biometeorology (IBIMET), National Research Council (CNR), Via Giovanni Caproni, 8, 50145 Florence, FI Italy.
4Department of Biology, University of Florence, Via Madonna del Piano, 6, 50019 Sesto F, FI Italy.
2The Microsoft Research - University of Trento Centre for Computational and Systems Biology (COSBI), Piazza Manifattura, 1, I-38068 Rovereto, TN Italy.
5Food Quality and Nutrition Department, Research and Innovation Centre, Edmund Mach Foundation, Via Edmund Mach, 1, 38010 San Michele all'Adige, TN Italy.
12Center Agriculture Food Environment, University of Trento, San Michele all'Adige, Italy.
6Department of Agri-Food Sciences and Technologies, University of Bologna, Piazza Goidanich 60, Cesena, FC Italy.
7Institute for Systems Analysis and Computer Science (IASI), National Research Council (CNR), Via dei Taurini, 19, 00185 Rome, RM Italy.
3Department of Food Technology, Safety and Health, Ghent University, Coupure links 653, 9000 Ghent, Belgium.
8KERMIT, Department of Data Analysis and Mathematical Modelling, Ghent University, Coupure links 653, 9000 Ghent, Belgium.
9Department of Telecommunications and Information Processing, Ghent University, Coupure links 653, 9000 Ghent, Belgium.
10Molecular Epidemiology Research Group, Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine, Berlin, Germany.
11Microbiology and Systems Biology, TNO, Utrechtseweg 48, 3704HE Zeist, The Netherlands.
Contributed equally



The multidisciplinary nature of nutrition research is one of its main strengths. At the same time, however, it presents a major obstacle to integrate data analysis, especially for the terminological and semantic interpretations that specific research fields or communities are used to. To date, a proper ontology to structure and formalize the concepts used for the description of nutritional studies is still lacking.


We have developed the Ontology for Nutritional Studies (ONS) by harmonizing selected pre-existing de facto ontologies with novel health and nutritional terminology classifications. The ONS is the result of a scholarly consensus of 51 research centers in nine European countries. The ontology classes and relations are commonly encountered while conducting, storing, harmonizing, integrating, describing, and searching nutritional studies. The ONS facilitates the description and specification of complex nutritional studies as demonstrated with two application scenarios.


The ONS is the first systematic effort to provide a solid and extensible formal ontology framework for nutritional studies. Integration of new information can be easily achieved by the addition of extra modules (i.e., nutrigenomics, metabolomics, nutrikinetics, and quality appraisal). The ONS provides a unified and standardized terminology for nutritional studies as a resource for nutrition researchers who might not necessarily be familiar with ontologies and standardization concepts.


Biomarker; Databases; Food intake; Health; Intervention study; Metabolomics; Nutrition; Observational study; Ontology

Conflict of interest statement

Not applicableThe authors declare that they have no competing interests.Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Springer Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center