Genetic and epidemiological research increasingly employs large collections of phenotypic and molecular observation data from high quality human and model organism samples. Standardization efforts have produced a few simple formats for exchange of these various data, but a lightweight and convenient data representation scheme for all data modalities does not exist, hindering successful data integration, such as assignment of mouse models to orphan diseases and phenotypic clustering for pathways. We report a unified system to integrate and compare observation data across experimental projects, disease databases, and clinical biobanks. The core object model (Observ-OM) comprises only four basic concepts to represent any kind of observation: Targets, Features, Protocols (and their Applications), and Values. An easy-to-use file format (Observ-TAB) employs Excel to represent individual and aggregate data in straightforward spreadsheets. The systems have been tested successfully on human biobank, genome-wide association studies, quantitative trait loci, model organism, and patient registry data using the MOLGENIS platform to quickly setup custom data portals. Our system will dramatically lower the barrier for future data sharing and facilitate integrated search across panels and species. All models, formats, documentation, and software are available for free and open source (LGPLv3) at http://www.observ-om.org.
© 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.