Methods Mol Biol.: auth.: C.Dessimoz

Methods Mol Biol. 2017;1446:189-205.

Gene Ontology: Pitfalls, Biases, and Remedies.

Gaudet P1,2Dessimoz C3,4,5,6,7.


The Gene Ontology (GO) is a formidable resource, but there are several considerations about it that are essential to understand the data and interpret it correctly. The GO is sufficiently simple that it can be used without deep understanding of its structure or how it is developed, which is both a strength and a weakness. In this chapter, we discuss some common misinterpretations of the ontology and the annotations. A better understanding of the pitfalls and the biases in the GO should help users make the most of this very rich resource. We also review some of the misconceptions and misleading assumptions commonly made about GO, including the effect of data incompleteness, the importance of annotation qualifiers, and the transitivity or lack thereof associated with different ontology relations. We also discuss several biases that can confound aggregate analyses such as gene enrichment analyses. For each of these pitfalls and biases, we suggest remedies and best practices.


Bias; Confounding; Data mining; Gene ontology; Gene/protein annotation; Simpson’s paradox

PMID: 27812944