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Using web ontology language to integrate heterogeneous databases in the neurosciences.

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Interdepartmental Program Computational Biology and Bioinformatics, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA.


Integrative neuroscience involves the integration and analysis of diverse types of neuroscience data involving many different experimental techniques. This data will increasingly be distributed across many heterogeneous databases that are web-accessible. Currently, these databases do not expose their schemas (database structures) and their contents to web applications/agents in a standardized, machine-friendly way. This limits database interoperation. To address this problem, we describe a pilot project that illustrates how neuroscience databases can be expressed using the Web Ontology Language, which is a semantically-rich ontological language, as a common data representation language to facilitate complex cross-database queries. In this pilot project, an existing tool called 'D2RQ' was used to translate two neuroscience databases (NeuronDB and CoCoDat) into OWL, and the resulting OWL ontologies were then merged. An OWL-based reasoner (Racer) was then used to provide a sophisticated query language (nRQL) to perform integrated queries across the two databases based on the merged ontology. This pilot project is one step toward exploring the use of semantic web technologies in the neurosciences.

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