Two years ago I was working with Drosophila, the common fruit fly, in an effort to create a bioluminescent hybrid using the luciferin enzyme. Unfortunately, my particular experiment was cut short and we were not able to create a functioning specimen. One of the tools that we consulted often was the GO, also known as the Gene Ontology Consortium. The tools allowed us to see how different genes and the biochemistry of the Drosophila would react to the luciferin. Although my experiment was never successful, scientists have since taken a leap forward. Fruit flies, like some other common animals, are able to smell cancer. However, fruit flies would not be able to communicate to humans their findings. Thus, scientists determined that another signal was required. This led them to genetically modifying fruit flies so that their antennae would glow (luminesce) in the presence of cancerous cells.
Many genetic experiments are aided by information in the Gene Ontology Consortium. The information that these scientists from the University of Konstantz that led them to using bioluminescence as a signal or finding a specimen that could detect cancer could easily have been found in the ontology. The ontology currently covers three major functions — cellular component, molecular function, and biological process. It started in 1998 and just modeled three different organisms: a common fruit fly, a mouse, and baker’s yeast. There have since been new organisms added but for the purposes of most biological testing — mouse and fruit fly models are probably the most consulted. There are now over a million annotations and much of the information is used everyday.
It’s systems and organization models like this that inspire scientists and make normal everyday functions that much more efficient. For example, there are already many other biological ontologies such as a disease ontology that connects diseases and symptoms to each other. But what if we applied ontologies to other disciplines such as economics and chemistry. If economists used ontologies to structure an economy it would be far easier than a 200 page text representation. If chemists needed to consult a resource for chemical reactions and chemical properties, an ontology would be quite efficient.
Information science and ontology modeling is gaining more traction because of the great potential it has. Hopefully, it will be implemented in more worldly processes in the near future.
Learn about fruit flies and cancerous detection: http://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/fruit-flies-have-been-genetically-modified-glow-when-they-detect-cancer/
Link to gene ontology browser: http://amigo.geneontology.org/amigo/dd_browse