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New RNA lexicon: RNA Ontology Consortium established to talk terms
May 2005
by Lisa Espenschade  | 

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BOWLING GREEN, OhioľA $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) will support the RNA Ontology Consortium, an international team of scientists developing a shared vocabulary and system for discussing RNA structure and function. Dr. Neocles Leontis, a professor of chemistry at Bowling Green State University, heads the Consortium, which he expects will include around 100 scientists during its five-year grant period.
 
"One of our goals is to bring people together," says Leontis, noting that fostering communication is crucial because the group will need to develop clear definitions and structure information in a meaningful way. "A big aspect of this is sociological," he adds. The group is scheduled to meet for the first time at this month's RNA Society's annual meeting.
 
The RNA Ontology Consortium will make its results available to the public via a web site developed by Bowling Green. The information will be linked to existing ontologies for anatomy and genetics, cascading data from the anatomical framework of tissues and cells to the molecular level of genes and, ultimately, how genes express themselves through RNA. The RNA information, says Leontis, should "create new paradigms for drug discovery with RNA," which is key to determining how to target protein synthesis that results in disease. The ontology group will focus on motifs, "the meaningful functional units" of RNA, he says.
 
Ordering the RNA Ontology Consortium's data will also present challenges, he says, for "coding knowledge in a way that you can compute on" and determining how to place the new vocabulary into logical systems within an orthogonal structure that dovetails with the ex-isting anatomy and gene ontologies. The group will collaborate with a representative of the Gene Ontology.
 
RNA Ontology Consortium participants will donate their time and pursue other research funding to leverage the NSF grant, but Leontis says volunteers should see return on their investments of time through expanded opportunities to report findings in peer-reviewed publications and presentations at RNA Society meetings. The Consortium expects to involve scientists from the U.S., Great Britain, France, Canada, and Australia.
 
Dr. Johan Lund, director of molecular sciences at Astra-Zeneca, sees ontologies as "instrumental in building systems where we can integrate information from multiple sources. They are also very important in the development of systems that not only display information as such, but can give us an overview of the concepts described by the information." He says AstraZeneca supports the Gene Ontology Consortium, which has shown the importance of involving scientists in creating vocabularies.
 
Dr. Joanne Tornow, of the NSF's Division of Molecular & Cellular Biosciences, says the Consortium received high marks for its proposal under the Research Coordination Networks program because "they have a really beautiful plan for bringing the group together and for bringing new voices into the group." She says the group comprises "a very multi-disciplined team that really will hit all the sides of the system" to create a robust ontology that should help scientists determine whether or not they are investigating similar topics.
 
Code: E050506

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