The Porifera Ontology (PORO): Enhancing sponge systematics with an anatomy ontology

Robert W. Thacker, Maria C. Díaz, Adeline Kerner, Régine Vignes-Lebbe, Erik Segerdell, Melissa A. Haendel, Christopher J. Mungall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Background: Porifera (sponges) are ancient basal metazoans that lack organs. They provide insight into key evolutionary transitions, such as the emergence of multicellularity and the nervous system. In addition, their ability to synthesize unusual compounds offers potential biotechnical applications. However, much of the knowledge of these organisms has not previously been codified in a machine-readable way using modern web standards. Results: The Porifera Ontology is intended as a standardized coding system for sponge anatomical features currently used in systematics. The ontology is available from, or from the project homepage The version referred to in this manuscript is permanently available from By standardizing character representations, we hope to facilitate more rapid description and identification of sponge taxa, to allow integration with other evolutionary database systems, and to perform character mapping across the major clades of sponges to better understand the evolution of morphological features. Future applications of the ontology will focus on creating (1) ontology-based species descriptions; (2) taxonomic keys that use the nested terms of the ontology to more quickly facilitate species identifications; and (3) methods to map anatomical characters onto molecular phylogenies of sponges. In addition to modern taxa, the ontology is being extended to include features of fossil taxa.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number39
JournalJournal of Biomedical Semantics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 8 2014


  • Evolution
  • Morphology
  • Phylogenetics
  • Taxonomic identification

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Information Systems
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Health Informatics
  • Computer Networks and Communications


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