This article is part of the supplement: Semantic Web Applications and Tools for Life Sciences (SWAT4LS) 2010

Open Access Research

Populous: a tool for building OWL ontologies from templates

Simon Jupp1*, Matthew Horridge1, Luigi Iannone1, Julie Klein2, Stuart Owen1, Joost Schanstra2, Katy Wolstencroft1 and Robert Stevens1*

Author Affiliations

1 Bio-Health Informatics Group, School of Computer Science, Kilburn Building, Oxford Road, Manchester, UK, M13 9PL

2 Inserm U1048, Institute of Metabolic and Cardiovascular Diseases - I2MC, 1 avenue Jean Poulhés, B.P. 84225, 31432 Toulouse Cedex 4, France

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BMC Bioinformatics 2012, 13(Suppl 1):S5  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-13-S1-S5

Published: 25 January 2012



Ontologies are being developed for the life sciences to standardise the way we describe and interpret the wealth of data currently being generated. As more ontology based applications begin to emerge, tools are required that enable domain experts to contribute their knowledge to the growing pool of ontologies. There are many barriers that prevent domain experts engaging in the ontology development process and novel tools are needed to break down these barriers to engage a wider community of scientists.


We present Populous, a tool for gathering content with which to construct an ontology. Domain experts need to add content, that is often repetitive in its form, but without having to tackle the underlying ontological representation. Populous presents users with a table based form in which columns are constrained to take values from particular ontologies. Populated tables are mapped to patterns that can then be used to automatically generate the ontology's content. These forms can be exported as spreadsheets, providing an interface that is much more familiar to many biologists.


Populous's contribution is in the knowledge gathering stage of ontology development; it separates knowledge gathering from the conceptualisation and axiomatisation, as well as separating the user from the standard ontology authoring environments. Populous is by no means a replacement for standard ontology editing tools, but instead provides a useful platform for engaging a wider community of scientists in the mass production of ontology content.