OntoDas - a tool for facilitating the construction of complex queries to the Gene Ontology

BACKGROUND: Ontologies such as the Gene Ontology can enable the construction of complex queries over biological information in a conceptual way, however existing systems to do this are too technical. Within the biological domain there is an increasing need for software that facilitates the flexible retrieval of information. OntoDas aims to fulfil this need by allowing the definition of queries by selecting valid ontology terms. RESULTS: OntoDas is a web-based tool that uses information visualisation techniques to provide an intuitive, interactive environment for constructing ontology-based queries against the Gene Ontology Database. Both a comprehensive use case and the interface itself were designed in a participatory manner by working with biologists to ensure that the interface matches the way biologists work. OntoDas was further tested with a separate group of biologists and refined based on their suggestions. CONCLUSION: OntoDas provides a visual and intuitive means for constructing complex queries against the Gene Ontology. It was designed with the participation of biologists and compares favourably with similar tools. It is available at http://ontodas.nbn.ac.za