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ONS - The Ontology for Nutritional Studies

The multidisciplinary nature of nutritional studies is one of its main strengths, but at the same time, a major obstacle for integrated data analysis, especially for the terminological and sematic interpretations that specific research fields or communities are used to. To date, a proper ontology to structure and formalize the concepts used for the description of this type of studies is still lacking.

We have developed the Ontology for Nutritional Studies (ONS) by harmonizing selected pre-existing de facto ontologies with novel health and nutritional terminology classifications as the result of a scholarly consensus of 51 research centers in 9 European countries. The resulting ontology classes and relations are commonly encountered while conducting, storing, harmonizing, integrating, describing and searching nutritional studies. ONS stands out as a single knowledge entry-point of unified and standardized domain-specific conceptual entitles, improving on the process of describing and specifying complex nutritional studies as demonstrated with two application scenarios.

ONS is the first systematic effort providing a solid and extensible formal ontology framework for nutritional studies, where integration of new information can be easily achieved by the addition of extra modules (i.e. Nutrigenomics, Metabolomics, Nutrikinetics, Quality appraisal, etc.). Nutritional researchers who might not necessarily be familiar with ontologies and concept standardization, can find in ONS a single knowledge entry point for a unified and standardized terminology for their studies.

ONS has lately joined the international initiative International Food Ontology Work Group; an initiative aimed at connecting various researchers and ontology developers in the broader-sense food domain to collaboratively build consensus on terms and classification in the food domain. Inside the IFOWG's issue tracker, terms are discussed and changes are proposed. Eventually, those changes can be adopted by the single ontologies in the IFOWG.

ONS was chosen to be the modeling of diet related terms, which were partially already included in V1.0. In the very next future, stemming from discussion in the IFOWG, a series of terms will be de-novo included in ONS and for some terms, definitions or axiomes will be modified. To assure treacability, double issues will be opened on the ONS and on the IFOWG tracker, but the core discussion would be taking place in the latter.

Contributions and documentation

We encourage the collaborative extention of ONS and to simplify the process we constantly monitor the ONS repository's Issue tracker for requests of new terms/classes or report errors or specific concerns related to the ontology.

There is also avaialbe a Wiki documenting synthentically but clearly how to start working on the ontology either on your own or via issue tracker.

Accessibility/Ontology browsers


OBO Foundry:



The ONS ontology has been circulating as a "work-in-progress" research artifact with few development versions. All of them were unofficial revisions solely meant as a way to collaboratively work with partners of the ENPADASI project. If you you are still interested, they can be found here.

Bibliographic reference


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License