Background: The World Wide Web plays a critical role in enabling molecular, cell, systems and computational biologists to exchange, search, visualize, integrate, and analyze experimental data. Such efforts can be further enhanced through the development of semantic web concepts. The semantic web idea is to enable machines to understand data through the development of protocol free data exchange formats such as Resource Description Framework (RDF) and the Web Ontology Language (OWL). These standards provide formal descriptors of objects, object properties and their relationships within a specific knowledge domain. However, the overhead of converting datasets typically stored in data tables such as Excel, text or PDF into RDF or OWL formats is not trivial for non-specialists and as such produces a barrier to seamless data exchange between researchers, databases and analysis tools. This problem is particularly of importance in the field of network systems biology where biochemical interactions between genes and their protein products are abstracted to networks.
Results: For the purpose of converting biochemical interactions into the BioPAX format, which is the leading standard developed by the computational systems biology community, we developed an open-source command line tool that takes as input tabular data describing different types of molecular biochemical interactions. The tool converts such interactions into the BioPAX level 3 OWL format. We used the tool to convert several existing and new mammalian networks of protein interactions, signalling pathways, and transcriptional regulatory networks into BioPAX. Some of these networks were deposited into PathwayCommons, a repository for consolidating and organizing biochemical networks.
Conclusions: The software tool Sig2BioPAX is a resource that enables experimental and computational systems biologists to contribute their identified networks and pathways of molecular interactions for integration and reuse with the rest of the research community.