Launch of the first standard graphical notation for biology

Ankara, Turkey, 07 August 2009 - Scientists representing over 30 institutions, including Bilkent Center for Bioinformatics (BCBI), around the globe have released a new set of standards for graphically representing biological information - the biology equivalent of the circuit diagram in electronics. This visual language should make it easier to exchange complex information, so that models are accurate, efficient and readily understandable. The new standard, called the Systems Biology Graphical Notation (SBGN), is published today in Nature Biotechnology (article).

Researchers use standardised visual languages to communicate complex information in a way that it is unambiguous and easy to understand. Such standard graphical representations are common to many scientific fields, for example the circuit diagrams in electronics. But biology still lacks a standardised notation that describes all biological interactions, pathways and networks, even though the discipline is dominated by graphical information.

The SBGN project was launched in 2005 as a united effort to specifically develop a new graphical standard for molecular and systems biology applications. The team comprises biochemists, modellers and computer scientists who have developed the SBGN in collaboration with the user community.

Dr. Dogrusoz, the Director of BCBI, said: "It is great to be part of such an effort. We believe these standardization efforts will lead to scientists talking the same langugage and effectively communicating their ideas in rapid knowledge acquisition, micro array generated large-scale data interpretation, disease gene identification, and drug development."

Previous graphical notation in biology has tended to be ambiguous, used in different ways by different researchers and only suited to specific needs, for example to represent metabolic networks or signalling pathways. Even past efforts to create a more rigid notation failed to become accepted as a standard by the community. The researchers believe that the SBGN should be more successful because it represents a more concerted effort to establish a standard by engaging users.

To ensure that this new visual language does not become too vast and complicated, the researchers decided to define three separate types of diagram that complement each other, which describe molecular process, relationships between entities and links among biochemical activities.