The need to represent knowledge about food is central to many human activities including agriculture, medicine, food safety inspection, shopping patterns, and sustainable development. FoodOn is a new ontology built to interoperate with the OBO Library and to represent entities which bear a “food role”. Initially the ontology will focus on the human-centric categorization and handling of food, but in the future it will also encompass materials in natural ecosystems and food webs. We aim to develop semantics for food safety, food security, the agricultural and animal husbandry practices linked to food production, culinary, nutritional and chemical ingredients and processes.
The scope of FoodOn is ambitious and will require input from multiple domains. FoodOn imports material from several ontologies covering anatomy, taxonomy, geography and cultural heritage. We aim to create content to cover gaps in the representation of food-related products and processes. This ontology is being applied to research and clinical datasets in academia and government. We also anticipate industry uptake since agricultural and consumer devices connected to the Internet of Things will require a standard food vocabulary that has a global, multilingual reach.
We have launched the ALPHA version of FoodOn, based largely on LanguaL, a descriptive food indexing system that has terms organized in facets that describe source ingredients, food preservation, cooking, consumer groups, etc. Food can also be linked to its cultural or geographic origin, and to its animal, plant or fungi raw ingredient taxonomy. You can view it at the EBI Ontology Lookup Service
William Hsiao and Damion Dooley (University of British Columbia Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine) and Fiona Brinkman and Emma Griffiths (Simon Fraser University Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry) are involved in the IRIDA.ca project with a focus on ontology of food-borne pathogen related (genomic) epidemiology. Fiona and Emma are also involved in The Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development study (CHILD) investigation of genetic and environmental factors associated with the development of allergy and asthma.
Pier Luigi Buttigieg (Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology) is developing environmental ontologies (ENVO) and semantics for sustainable development. These domains include the semantics of food production, security, and composition.
Robert Hoehndorf (King Abdullah University), a key proponent of the Aber-OWL.net project, is researching chemical exposure with respect to diet and health.
Matthew Lange (UC Davis School of Medicine Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, and Initiative for Wireless Health and Wellness) spearheads the IC3-Foods consortium, with a focus on the technology and policy implications of next generation food systems.
As a robust food ontology can only be created by consensus and wide adoption, we are currently forming an international, open-membership consortium to build partnerships, solicit domain expertise, and gather use cases to guide the ontology’s development.