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Comparative and Functional Genomics
Volume 4, Issue 1, Pages 80-84
Conference review

An Upper-Level Ontology for the Biomedical Domain

National Library of Medicine, Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 8600, USA

Received 22 October 2002; Accepted 4 December 2002

Copyright © 2003 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


At the US National Library of Medicine we have developed the Unified Medical Language System (UMLS), whose goal it is to provide integrated access to a large number of biomedical resources by unifying the vocabularies that are used to access those resources. The UMLS currently interrelates some 60 controlled vocabularies in the biomedical domain. The UMLS coverage is quite extensive, including not only many concepts in clinical medicine, but also a large number of concepts applicable to the broad domain of the life sciences. In order to provide an overarching conceptual framework for all UMLS concepts, we developed an upper-level ontology, called the UMLS semantic network. The semantic network, through its 134 semantic types, provides a consistent categorization of all concepts represented in the UMLS. The 54 links between the semantic types provide the structure for the network and represent important relationships in the biomedical domain. Because of the growing number of information resources that contain genetic information, the UMLS coverage in this area is being expanded. We recently integrated the taxonomy of organisms developed by the NLM's National Center for Biotechnology Information, and we are currently working together with the developers of the Gene Ontology to integrate this resource, as well. As additional, standard, ontologies become publicly available, we expect to integrate these into the UMLS construct.