How to Distinguish Parthood from Location in Bioontologies

In Proceedings of the AMIA Symposium. American Medical Informatics Association. pp. 669-673 (2005)
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The pivotal role of the relation part-of in the description of living organisms is widely acknowledged. Organisms are open systems, which means that in contradistinction to mechanical artifacts they are characterized by a continuous flow and exchange of matter. A closer analysis of the spatial relations in biological organisms reveals that the decision as to whether a given particular is part-of a second particular or whether it is only contained-in the second particular is often controversial. We here propose a rule-based approach which allows us to decide on the basis of well-defined criteria which of the two relations holds between two anatomical objects, given that one spatially includes the other. We discuss the advantages and limitations of this approach, using concrete examples from human anatomy.
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