A FAIR approach to genomics

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


The aim of this thesis was to increase our understanding on how genome information leads to function and phenotype. To address these questions, I developed a semantic systems biology framework capable of extracting knowledge, biological concepts and emergent system properties, from a vast array of publicly available genome information. In chapter 2, Empusa is described as an infrastructure that bridges the gap between the intended and actual content of a database. This infrastructure was used in chapters 3 and 4 to develop the framework. Chapter 3 describes the development of the Genome Biology Ontology Language and the GBOL stack of supporting tools enforcing consistency within and between the GBOL definitions in the ontology (OWL) and the Shape Expressions (ShEx) language describing the graph structure. A practical implementation of a semantic systems biology framework for FAIR (de novo) genome annotation is provided in chapter 4. The semantic framework and genome annotation tool described in this chapter has been used throughout this thesis to consistently, structurally and functionally annotate and mine microbial genomes used in chapter 5-10. In chapter 5, we introduced how the concept of protein domains and corresponding architectures can be used in comparative functional genomics to provide for a fast, efficient and scalable alternative to sequence-based methods. This allowed us to effectively compare and identify functional variations between hundreds to thousands of genomes. In chapter 6, we used 432 available complete Pseudomonas genomes to study the relationship between domain essentiality and persistence. In this chapter the focus was mainly on domains involved in metabolic functions. The metabolic domain space was explored for domain essentiality and persistence through the integration of heterogeneous data sources including six published metabolic models, a vast gene expression repository and transposon data. In chapter 7, the correlation between the expected and observed genotypes was explored using 16S-rRNA phylogeny and protein domain class content as input. In this chapter it was shown that domain class content yields a higher resolution in comparison to 16S-rRNA when analysing evolutionary distances. Using protein domain classes, we also were able to identify signifying domains, which may have important roles in shaping a species. To demonstrate the use of semantic systems biology workflows in a biotechnological setting we expanded the resource with more than 80.000 bacterial genomes. The genomic information of this resource was mined using a top down approach to identify strains having the trait for 1,3-propanediol production. This resulted in the molecular identification of 49 new species. In addition, we also experimentally verified that 4 species were capable of producing 1,3-propanediol.

As discussed in chapter 10, the here developed semantic systems biology workflows were successfully applied in the discovery of key elements in symbiotic relationships, to improve functional genome annotation and in comparative genomics studies. Wet/dry-lab collaboration was often at the basis of the obtained results.

The success of the collaboration between the wet and dry field, prompted me to develop an undergraduate course in which the concept of the “Moist” workflow was introduced (Chapter 9).

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Martins dos Santos, Vitor, Promotor
  • Schaap, Peter, Co-promotor
  • Saccenti, Edoardo, Co-promotor
Award date25 Jan 2019
Place of PublicationWageningen
Print ISBNs9789463433693
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • cum laude


Dive into the research topics of 'A FAIR approach to genomics'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this