Background: The African clawed frogs Xenopus laevis and Xenopus tropicalis are prominent animal model organisms. Xenopus research contributes to the understanding of genetic, developmental and molecular mechanisms underlying human disease. The Xenopus Anatomy Ontology (XAO) reflects the anatomy and embryological development of Xenopus. The XAO provides consistent terminology that can be applied to anatomical feature descriptions along with a set of relationships that indicate how each anatomical entity is related to others in the embryo, tadpole, or adult frog. The XAO is integral to the functionality of Xenbase (http://www.xenbase.org), the Xenopus model organism database.
Results: We significantly expanded the XAO in the last five years by adding 612 anatomical terms, 2934 relationships between them, 640 synonyms, and 547 ontology cross-references. Each term now has a definition, so database users and curators can be certain they are selecting the correct term when specifying an anatomical entity. With developmental timing information now asserted for every anatomical term, the ontology provides internal checks that ensure high-quality gene expression and phenotype data annotation. The XAO, now with 1313 defined anatomical and developmental stage terms, has been integrated with Xenbase expression and anatomy term searches and it enables links between various data types including images, clones, and publications. Improvements to the XAO structure and anatomical definitions have also enhanced cross-references to anatomy ontologies of other model organisms and humans, providing a bridge between Xenopus data and other vertebrates. The ontology is free and open to all users.
Conclusions: The expanded and improved XAO allows enhanced capture of Xenopus research data and aids mechanisms for performing complex retrieval and analysis of gene expression, phenotypes, and antibodies through text-matching and manual curation. Its comprehensive references to ontologies across taxa help integrate these data for human disease modeling.