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Information overload in the era of 'big data'
Date:8/20/2012

Botany is plagued by the same problem as the rest of science and society: our ability to generate data quickly and cheaply is surpassing our ability to access and analyze it. In this age of big data, scientists facing too much information rely on computers to search large data sets for patterns that are beyond the capability of humans to recognizebut computers can only interpret data based on the strict set of rules in their programming.

New tools called ontologies provide the rules computers need to transform information into knowledge, by attaching meaning to data, thereby making those data retrievable by computers and more understandable to human beings. Ontology, from the Greek word for the study of being or existence, traditionally falls within the purview of philosophy, but the term is now used by computer and information scientists to describe a strategy for representing knowledge in a consistent fashion. An ontology in this contemporary sense is a description of the types of entities within a given domain and the relationships among them.

A new article in this month's American Journal of Botany by Ramona Walls (New York Botanical Garden) and colleagues describes how scientists build ontologies such as the Plant Ontology (PO) and how these tools can transform plant science by facilitating new ways of gathering and exploring data.

When data from many divergent sources, such as data about some specific plant organ, are associated or "tagged" with particular terms from a single ontology or set of interrelated ontologies, the data become easier to find, and computers can use the logical relationships in the ontologies to correctly combine the information from the different databases. Moreover, computers can also use ontologies to aggregate data associated with the different subclasses or parts of entities.

For example, suppose a researc
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Contact: Richard Hund
rhund@botany.org
314-577-9557
American Journal of Botany
Source:Eurekalert  

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