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This article is part of the supplement: Proceedings of the International Conference of the Brazilian Association for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology (X-meeting 2011)

Open Access Research

A UML profile for the OBO relation ontology

Gabriela DA Guardia, Ricardo ZN Vêncio and Cléver RG de Farias*

Author Affiliations

Department of Computer Science and Mathematics (DCM/FFCLRP), University of São Paulo (USP) Av. Bandeirantes, 3900 - Monte Alegre - Ribeirão Preto - SP - 14040-901 - Brazil

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BMC Genomics 2012, 13(Suppl 5):S3  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-13-S5-S3

Published: 19 October 2012



Ontologies have increasingly been used in the biomedical domain, which has prompted the emergence of different initiatives to facilitate their development and integration. The Open Biological and Biomedical Ontologies (OBO) Foundry consortium provides a repository of life-science ontologies, which are developed according to a set of shared principles. This consortium has developed an ontology called OBO Relation Ontology aiming at standardizing the different types of biological entity classes and associated relationships. Since ontologies are primarily intended to be used by humans, the use of graphical notations for ontology development facilitates the capture, comprehension and communication of knowledge between its users. However, OBO Foundry ontologies are captured and represented basically using text-based notations. The Unified Modeling Language (UML) provides a standard and widely-used graphical notation for modeling computer systems. UML provides a well-defined set of modeling elements, which can be extended using a built-in extension mechanism named Profile. Thus, this work aims at developing a UML profile for the OBO Relation Ontology to provide a domain-specific set of modeling elements that can be used to create standard UML-based ontologies in the biomedical domain.


We have studied the OBO Relation Ontology, the UML metamodel and the UML profiling mechanism. Based on these studies, we have proposed an extension to the UML metamodel in conformance with the OBO Relation Ontology and we have defined a profile that implements the extended metamodel. Finally, we have applied the proposed UML profile in the development of a number of fragments from different ontologies. Particularly, we have considered the Gene Ontology (GO), the PRotein Ontology (PRO) and the Xenopus Anatomy and Development Ontology (XAO).


The use of an established and well-known graphical language in the development of biomedical ontologies provides a more intuitive form of capturing and representing knowledge than using only text-based notations. The use of the profile requires the domain expert to reason about the underlying semantics of the concepts and relationships being modeled, which helps preventing the introduction of inconsistencies in an ontology under development and facilitates the identification and correction of errors in an already defined ontology.