Background: Understanding the distinction between function and role is vexing and difficult. While it appears to be useful, in practice this distinction is hard to apply, particularly within biology. Results: I take an evolutionary approach, considering a series of examples, to develop and generate definitions for these concepts. I test them in practice against the Ontology for Biomedical Investigations (OBI). Finally, I give an axiomatisation and discuss methods for applying these definitions in practice. Conclusions: The definitions in this paper are applicable, formalizing current practice. As such, they make a significant contribution to the use of these concepts within biomedical ontologies. Background Large parts of modern biology are aimed at answering questions about function. For example, much of the Gene Ontology deals with molecular function . In dealing with the social aspects of science, roles are similarly important. It is clear, therefore
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