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Interpretation of biological experiments changes with evolution of Gene Ontology and its annotations

By Aurelie Tomczak, Jonathan M Mortensen, Rainer Winnenburg, Charles Liu, Dominique T Alessi, Varsha Swamy, Francesco Vallania, Shane Lofgren, Winston Haynes, Nigam Shah, Mark A. Musen, Purvesh Khatri

Posted 03 Dec 2017
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/228080 (published DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-23395-2)

Gene Ontology (GO) enrichment analysis is ubiquitously used for interpreting high throughput molecular data and generating hypotheses about underlying biological phenomena of experiments. However, the two building blocks of this analysis - the ontology and the annotations - evolve rapidly. We used gene signatures derived from 104 disease analyses to systematically evaluate how enrichment analysis results were affected by evolution of the GO over a decade. We found low consistency between enrichment analyses results obtained with early and more recent GO versions. Furthermore, there continues to be strong annotation bias in the GO annotations where 58% of the annotations are for 16% of the human genes. Our analysis suggests that GO evolution may have affected the interpretation and possibly reproducibility of experiments over time. Hence, researchers must exercise caution when interpreting GO enrichment analyses and should reexamine previous analyses with the most recent GO version.

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