< Contents ERCIM News No. 60, January 2005

W3C Workshop on Semantic Web for Life Sciences

The W3C held a workshop on 'Semantic Web for Life Sciences' on 27-28 October 2004 at the Radisson Hotel in Cambridge, MA. The goal was to discuss emerging and future applications of Semantic Web for Life Sciences and to get feedback on what additional specification or coordination efforts might be necessary to support this area. Specifically, how can Semantic Web technologies help to manage the inherent complexity of modern life sciences research, enable disease understanding, and accelerate the development of new therapies for disease?

The workshop was oversubscribed at 115 attendees coming from all over the world and from all sectors of life sciences. The workshop program included seven panel discussions on specific topics related to the future of Semantic Web for Life Sciences, and a closing discussion about next steps. The position papers submitted by the workshop participants also provide further details on these issues and a list of attendees.

Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director, led off the workshop with an introduction to the W3C Semantic Web technologies: of a web of machine-processable information, evolutionary and decentralized. Ken Buetow, Director of the U.S. National Cancer Institute's Center for Bioinformatics, began the second day of the workshop with his efforts to build the Cancer Bioinformatics Grid (caBIG) and of the applications of semantics and standards in a decentralized research environment.

Panel discussions included the pharmaceutical industry perspective on Semantic Web (SW), the interactions between SW and scientific publishing, the difference between domain-specific ontologies and broad, 'bridging' vocabularies, Web services, the challenge of unique identifiers in the life sciences, chemistry and SW. Identified issues are aggregation and inferencing on complex scientific knowledge and data.

The workshop ended with a panel discussion of next steps for the W3C. There was broad consensus that the existing data integration approaches - intra-enterprise, cross-community, etc. - are in need of help. There was also broad consensus that Semantic Web represented a potential set of solutions that could ease some of the difficulties posed by the life sciences data and knowledge domain.

However, there was also consensus that work remains to be done, in particular on 'cross-domain' vocabularies describing such areas as data provenance, context, cross-reference, navigation, versioning and so forth. The goal of work on such vocabularies would be to stimulate cross-community data integration.

Finally, there was a discussion of an 'implementation' interest group - for working on issues of complex data integration, aggregation, query and visualization. This idea met with broad support.

Summary report:
Position papers: