Background: Using knowledge representation for biomedical projects is now commonplace. In previous work, we represented the knowledge found in a college-level biology textbook in a fashion useful for answering questions. We showed that embedding the knowledge representation and question-answering abilities in an electronic textbook helped to engage student interest and improve learning. A natural question that arises from this success, and this paper's primary focus, is whether a similar approach is applicable across a range of life science textbooks. To answer that question, we considered four different textbooks, ranging from a below-introductory college biology text to an advanced, graduate-level neuroscience textbook. For these textbooks, we investigated the following questions: (1) To what extent is knowledge shared between the different textbooks? (2) To what extent can the same upper ontology be used to represent the knowledge found in different textbooks? (3) To what extent can the questions of interest for a range of textbooks be answered by using the same reasoning mechanisms?
Results: Our existing modeling and reasoning methods apply especially well both to a textbook that is comparable in level to the text studied in our previous work (i.e., an introductory-level text) and to a textbook at a lower level, suggesting potential for a high degree of portability. Even for the overlapping knowledge found across the textbooks, the level of detail covered in each textbook was different, which requires that the representations must be customized for each textbook. We also found that for advanced textbooks, representing models and scientific reasoning processes was particularly important.
Conclusions: With some additional work, our representation methodology would be applicable to a range of textbooks. The requirements for knowledge representation are common across textbooks, suggesting that a shared semantic infrastructure for the life sciences is feasible. Because our representation overlaps heavily with those already being used for biomedical ontologies, this work suggests a natural pathway to include such representations as part of the life sciences curriculum at different grade levels.
Keywords: Knowledge representation; Ontology; Question answering; Reasoning; Semantic infrastructure; Textbook knowledge.