The value of any kind of data is greatly enhanced when it exists in a form that allows it to be integrated with other data. One approach to integration is through the annotation of multiple bodies of data using common controlled vocabularies or 'ontologies'. Unfortunately, the very success of this approach has led to a proliferation of ontologies, which itself creates obstacles to integration. The Open Biomedical Ontologies (OBO) consortium is pursuing a strategy to overcome this problem. Existing OBO ontologies, including the Gene Ontology, are undergoing coordinated reform, and new ontologies are being created on the basis of an evolving set of shared principles governing ontology development. The result is an expanding family of ontologies designed to be interoperable and logically well formed and to incorporate accurate representations of biological reality. We describe this OBO Foundry initiative and provide guidelines for those who might wish to become involved.

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The Foundry is receiving ad hoc funding under the BISC Gen e Ontology Consortium, MGED, NCBO and RNA Ontology grants. We are grateful to all of these sources, and also to the ACGT Project of the European Union and to the Humboldt and Volkswagen Foundations.

Author information


  1. Department of Philosophy and New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences, University at Buffalo, 701 Ellicott Street, Buffalo, New York 14203, USA.

    • Barry Smith
  2. Department of Genetics, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge, CB2 3EH, UK.

    • Michael Ashburner
  3. Department of Biological Structure, Box 357420, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195, USA.

    • Cornelius Rosse
  4. Department of Biomedical Sciences, The University of Edinburgh, 1 George Square, Edinburgh EH8 9JZ, Scotland, UK.

    • Jonathan Bard
  5. Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy, Drexel University College of Medicine, 2900 Queen Lane, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19129, USA.

    • William Bug
  6. Department of Psychiatry and New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences, University at Buffalo, 701 Ellicott Street, Buffalo, New York 14203, USA.

    • Werner Ceusters
  7. Department of Oral Biology and New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences, University at Buffalo, 701 Ellicott Street, Buffalo, New York 14203, USA.

    • Louis J Goldberg
  8. Eccles Institute of Human Genetics, University of Utah, 15 North 2030 East, Salt Lake City, Utah 84112, USA.

    • Karen Eilbeck
  9. European Bioinformatics Institute, Wellcome Trust Genome Campus, Hinxton, Cambridge, CB10 1SD, UK.

    • Amelia Ireland
    • , Philippe Rocca-Serra
    •  & Susanna-Assunta Sansone
  10. Life Sciences Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, 1 Cyclotron Road, Berkeley, California 94720, USA.

    • Christopher J Mungall
    •  & Suzanna Lewis
  11. Department of Chemistry, Bowling Green State University, 212 Physical Sciences Laboratory Building, 1001 East Wooster Street, Bowling Green, Ohio 43403, USA.

    • Neocles Leontis
  12. Science Commons, c/o Massachusetts Institute of Technology Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Building 32-386D, 32 Vassar Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA.

    • Alan Ruttenberg
  13. Department of Pathology, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Harry Hines Blvd., Dallas, Texas 75390 USA.

    • Richard H Scheuermann
  14. Stanford Medical Informatics, Stanford University School of Medicine, 251 Campus Drive, Stanford, California 94305, USA.

    • Nigam Shah
  15. Center for Bioinformatics and Department of Genetics, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, 423 Guardian Drive, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104, USA.

    • Patricia L Whetzel


  1. The OBI Consortium



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Correspondence to Barry Smith.

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