While many researchers have a pathway or pathology of interest, their first time curating content in the Biological Expression Language (BEL) may seem intimidating. This post lists several disease maps and BEL content sources that are directly available for re-use.

Manually Curated BEL

The bel-repository Python package has the job of taking BEL content that lives in a GitHub repository and making it easy to share with other people. It leverages pybel and tox to pre-compile BEL content and provide summaries that are auto-hosted by GitHub (when configured properly). The following is a short but growing list of some resources that are available through GitHub.

Selventa Large + Small Corpora DOI

Along with their release of the OpenBEL Framework in 2012, Selventa published two files to GitHub that showcased the range of biological phenomena that could be expressed in BEL with a slight focus on atherosclerosis. They were excitingly named the “Selventa Small Corpus” and “Selventa Large Corpus”.

Becuase Selventa dissolved in 2016 and the belframework.org domain expired in mid-2019, the files have been updated and redistributed on GitHub at cthoyt/selventa-knowledge under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License, same as the original. It can be installed in Python directly with:

pip install git+https://github.com/cthoyt/selventa-knowledge.git
selventa-knowledge summarize

It can be used in Python as a PyBEL BEL graph with:

import selventa_knowledge
selventa_graph = selventa_knowledge.get_graph()

EpiCom DOI

This knowledge graph describes putative mechanisms involved in the pathogenesis of Epilepsy. It was published by Hoyt and Domingo-Fernández et al. (2018) in A systematic approach for identifying shared mechanisms in epilepsy and its comorbidities.

It is available on GitHub under neurommsig-epilepsy/neurommsig-epilepsy or can be installed directly with Python using:

pip install neurommsig-epilepsy
neurommsig-epilepsy summarize

After installation, it can be directly used with PyBEL like:

import neurommsig_epilepsy
epilepsy_graph = neurommsig_epilepsy.get_graph()


The Curation of Neurodegeneration in BEL (CONIB) encodes biological phenomena related to tauopathies in the context of neurodegeneration.

It is available on GitHub under pharmacome/conib or can be installed directly with Python using:

pip install git+https://github.com/pharmacome/conib.git
conib summarize

After installation, it can be directly used with PyBEL like:

import conib
conib_graph = conib.get_graph()


The Heme Knowledge Graph (HemeKG) encodes heme pathogenicity and pathway dysregulation in the context of hemolytic disorders. It was published by Humayun et al. in A computational approach for mapping heme biology in the context of hemolytic disorders.

It is available on GitHub under hemekg/hemekg or can be installed directly with Python using:

pip install hemekg
hemekg summarize

After installation, it can be directly used with PyBEL like:

import hemekg
heme_graph = hemekg.get_graph()

COVID-19 Knowledge Graph DOI

The COVID-19 Knowledge graph encodes biology surrounding the infection of the novel coronavirus. It was published by Domingo-Fernández et al. in COVID-19 Knowledge Graph: a computable, multi-modal, cause-and-effect knowledge model of COVID-19 pathophysiology.

It is available on GitHub under covid19kg/covid19kg or can be installed directly with Python using:

pip install git+https://github.com/covid19kg/covid19kg.git
covid19kg summarize

After installation, it can be directly used with PyBEL like:

import covid19kg
covid19_graph = covid19kg.get_graph()


The Bio2BEL ecosystem is built on top of PyBEL to convert as many reasonable structured data sources as possible into BEL, automatically. A list of most of the available repositories is available in the documentation. A few notable examples are included here. Notably, metadatabases like Pathway Commons will not be supported by Bio2BEL, because it’s almost always better to get the source data which is much higher granular. A pre-print describing the Bio2BEL philosophy and summarizing the content in it is available on bioRxiv.

Causal Biological Networks Database

The Causal Biological Networks database provides a swath of ground-truth biology. It has human, rat, and mouse networks that can be downloaded from the main page in a bespoke (and undocumented) JGF variant. Luckily, an importer can be found in the PyBEL documentation with instructions for unzipping the downloads and loading them into PyBEL with pybel.from_cbn_jgif_file().

The content has also been pre-processed and is available at https://github.com/pybel/cbn-bel


Hetionet is a large biomedical knowledge graphs created for drug repositioning.

Systematic integration of biomedical knowledge prioritizes drugs for repurposing Daniel S Himmelstein, Antoine Lizee, Christine Hessler, Leo Brueggeman, Sabrina L Chen, Dexter Hadley, Ari Green, Pouya Khankhanian, Sergio E Baranzini eLife (2017-09-22) DOI: 10.7554/eLife.26726

An export of Hetionet as BEL can be found at https://github.com/pybel/hetionet-bel.

OpenBioLink is a framework that produces biomedical knowledge graphs for link prediction.

OpenBioLink: A benchmarking framework for large-scale biomedical link prediction Breit, A., Ott, S., Agibetov, A., & Samwald, M. Bioinformatics (2020) DOI: 10.1093/bioinformatics/btaa274

KEGG, WikiPathways, and Reactome

The PathMe package converts KEGG, Reactome, and WikiPathways to BEL. Results may vary, because the variety of XML, BioPAX, and GPML/RDF used by the source databases changes all of the time, but this is a trove of content from other manual curation efforts. It was published by Domingo-Fernández et al in BMC Bioinformatics.

Leaving the PyBEL Ecosystem

While each repository distributes the source BEL scripts along with pre-compiled BEL JSON for easy use with PyBEL, some users may want to convert the content for other purposes. For example, you may want to upload it to one of many services that PyBEL interacts with.

Upload to BEL Commons

BEL Commons is a free, open-source platform for hosting BEL content. Because it was originally developed and published in an academic capacity at Fraunhofer, they host a public instance.

import covid19kg
graph = covid19kg.get_graph()

import pybel
pybel.to_bel_commons(graph, host='https://bel-commons-dev.scai.fraunhofer.de', user='...', password='...')

The public instance of BEL Commons is only supported by Fraunhofer out of posterity. If you would like to host your own instance of BEL Commons, it can be downloaded from GitHub (bel-commons/bel-commons) and hosted easily with Docker. If you are hosting your own instance, all you have to do is use the host keyword. Otherwise, it defaults to the server hosted by Fraunhofer. See the pybel.to_bel_commons() documentation.

Upload to BioDati Studio

BioDati is a paid, closed-source platform for hosting BEL content. However, they do have a demo instance running at https://studio.demo.biodati.com with which the examples in this module will be described.

import covid19kg
graph = covid19kg.get_graph()

import pybel
pybel.to_biodati(graph, host='https://nanopubstore.demo.biodati.com', user='...', password='...')

More information on uploading to BioDati can be found in the documentation of pybel.to_biodati().

Conversion to INDRA

INDRA is an excellent suite for automated model assembly developed in the Laboratory of Systems Pharmacology at Harvard Medical School. PyBEL can convert content to INDRA with the following code:

import covid19kg
graph = covid19kg.get_graph()

import pybel
statements = pybel.to_indra_statements(graph)

PyBEL has tons of other I/O formats, especially for analytical tools like HiPathia, SPIA, PyKEEN, and others that aren’t mentioned here, but can be found in its documentation here.

I hope you’re able to find some of this content useful! If you know about any other publicly available BEL content, please let me know so I can update this post. All of my contact info is below. Or make a pull request against this page directly. Or tweet at me @cthoyt.