BackgroundIn recent years large bibliographic databases have made much of the published literature of biology available for searches. However, the capabilities of the search engines integrated into these databases for text-based bibliographic searches are limited. To enable searches that deliver the results expected by comparative anatomists, an underlying logical structure known as an ontology is required.
Development and testing of the ontologyHere we present the Mammalian Feeding Muscle Ontology (MFMO), a multi-species ontology focused on anatomical structures that participate in feeding and other oral/pharyngeal behaviors. A unique feature of the MFMO is that a simple, computable, definition of each muscle, which includes its attachments and innervation, is true across mammals. This construction mirrors the logical foundation of comparative anatomy and permits searches using language familiar to biologists. Further, it provides a template for muscles that will be useful in extending any anatomy ontology. The MFMO is developed to support the Feeding Experiments End-User Database Project (FEED, https://feedexp.org/), a publicly-available, online repository for physiological data collected from in vivo studies of feeding (e.g., mastication, biting, swallowing) in mammals. Currently the MFMO is integrated into FEED and also into two literature-specific implementations of Textpresso, a text-mining system that facilitates powerful searches of a corpus of scientific publications. We evaluate the MFMO by asking questions that test the ability of the ontology to return appropriate answers (competency questions). We compare the results of queries of the MFMO to results from similar searches in PubMed and Google Scholar.
Results and significanceOur tests demonstrate that the MFMO is competent to answer queries formed in the common language of comparative anatomy, but PubMed and Google Scholar are not. Overall, our results show that by incorporating anatomical ontologies into searches, an expanded and anatomically comprehensive set of results can be obtained. The broader scientific and publishing communities should consider taking up the challenge of semantically enabled search capabilities.