Background: Systematic representation of information related to genetic and non-genetic variations is required to allow large scale studies, data mining and data integration, and to make it possible to reveal novel relationships between genotype and phenotype. Although lots of variation data is available it is often difficult to use due to lack of systematics.
Results: A novel ontology, Variation Ontology (VariO http://variationontology.org), was developed for annotation of effects, consequences and mechanisms of variations. In this article instructions are provided on how VariO annotations are made. The major levels for description are the three molecules, namely DNA, RNA and protein. They are further divided to four major sublevels: variation type, function, structure, and property, and further up to eight sublevels. VariO annotation summarizes existing knowledge about a variation and its effects and formalizes it so that computational analyses are efficient. The annotations should be made on as many levels as possible. VariO annotations are made in reference to normal states, which vary for each data item including e.g. reference sequences, wild type properties, and activities.
Conclusions: Detailed instructions together with examples are provided to indicate how VariO can be used for annotation of variations and their effects. A dedicated tool has been developed for annotation and will be further developed to cover also evidence for the annotations. VariO is suitable for annotation of data in many types of databases. As several different kinds of databases are in a process of adapting VariO annotations it is important to have guidelines to guarantee consistent annotation.