External male (left) and female (right) genitalia of ceraphronoid wasps, as visualized using laser confocal microscopy. Which parts of these anatomical complexes are true 'appendages' and why? How do we define an arthropod 'segment'?
It’s been just over a week since our grand Phenotype RCN summit meeting at NESCent, and now that the dust has settled it’s a good time to report on some progress and future directions of the Arthropod Working Group (AWG). The AWG is one of four somewhat loose-knit working groups, organized under the Phenotype RCN umbrella, and our primary goal is to develop a common anatomy ontology for Arthropoda (CAAO, for now). This summit meeting was the third opportunity for us arthroöntologists (pretty sure that wasn’t a real word, until now) to meet since the RCN began last year, and we capitalized on the positive vibe permeating through the greater meeting to discuss five main questions:
1) What resources do we have already to move this effort forward in an organized, robust way? We itemized the various communication and ontology development tools we have at our disposal: Arthropod Anatomy email list (not used much yet, but could blossom), an arthropod anatomy ontology Google Code site with issue tracker, ontology development tools (primarily Protégé and mx), and Skype (of course!)
2) Given these resources, how do we envision the workflow unfolding? We’ve been working in a somewhat piecemeal fashion for the last year, which made progress a bit … slow. Given the varied informatics expertise of our group we still need to discuss mechanisms that will allow everyone to contribute in a relatively flexible way – e.g., some people could checkout the ontology and refine it using Protégé, whereas others will want simply to send requests via email. This discussion is ongoing.
3) Ontology development should be guided by real use cases. What are ours? Our working group (n=17 so far) is populated by systematists, comparative morphologists, neuro-anatomists, and evolutionary developmental biologists. And our study organisms ranged from established models (Drosophila) to emerging models (Parhyale, Gryllus) to fossils. Accordingly, our use cases were quite diverse: connecting behavior to anatomy (For any given behavior, what structures are implicated in clades X and Y?), discovering homology across Arthropoda (e.g., topologically same structure but named differently in different clades), understanding the context of internal arthropod anatomy (in which clades are the ovaries dorsally located anterior to segment X?), standardizing descriptions of comparative anatomy results (making descriptions explicit and logical), query for data about homologous or similar anatomical structures in related species (e.g., gene expression, phenotype, electrophysiology data), make data collected in one domain available/queryable to all other relevant domains (e.g., from descriptive taxonomy to genome-phenome researchers).
4) Given these use cases, how do we prioritize ontology development or otherwise partition its development? This discussion is ongoing, but we tossed around options for recruiting more experts to contribute for certain high priority anatomical systems. E.g., if we see immediate payoff for implementing the CAAO in the context of ovarian phenotypes we could organize a push to recruit more arthropod ovary experts for a working group.
5) What are our action items? We definitely need to organize regular virtual meetings, either as Skype chats/calls or regular conference calls. We’re scheduling the first chat soon and will post here when we finalize the date/time!
So, that’s the quick summary of our working group meeting. Expect more news soon, right here on this blog. In the meantime, if you crave a more detailed report of the AWG activities so far, and you seek to get more involved, don’t hesitate to contact Andy Deans (adeans @ gmail . com) – especially if you think you know the answers to the questions highlighted in the image caption above!