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Concept: Computational genomics


Genomics is a Big Data science and is going to get much bigger, very soon, but it is not known whether the needs of genomics will exceed other Big Data domains. Projecting to the year 2025, we compared genomics with three other major generators of Big Data: astronomy, YouTube, and Twitter. Our estimates show that genomics is a “four-headed beast”-it is either on par with or the most demanding of the domains analyzed here in terms of data acquisition, storage, distribution, and analysis. We discuss aspects of new technologies that will need to be developed to rise up and meet the computational challenges that genomics poses for the near future. Now is the time for concerted, community-wide planning for the “genomical” challenges of the next decade.

Concepts: Physics, Science, Knowledge, Computational genomics, Need, Universe, Astronomy, The Next Decade


With the advent of high throughput data genomic technologies the volume of available data is now staggering. In addition databases that provide resources to annotate, translate, and connect biological data have grown exponentially in content and use. The availability of such data emphasizes the importance of bioinformatics and computational biology in genomics research and has led to the development of thousands of tools to integrate and utilize these resources. When utilizing such resources, the principles of reproducible research are often overlooked. In this manuscript we provide selected case studies illustrating issues that may arise while working with genes and genetic polymorphisms. These case studies illustrate potential sources of error which can be introduced if the practices of reproducible research are not employed and non-concurrent databases are used. We also show examples of a lack of transparency when these databases are concerned when using popular bioinformatics tools. These examples highlight that resources are constantly evolving, and in order to provide reproducible results, research should be aware of and connected to the correct release of the data, particularly when implementing computational tools.

Concepts: DNA, Scientific method, Gene, Genetics, Bioinformatics, Biology, Genomics, Computational genomics


Machine learning has become a pivotal tool for many projects in computational biology, bioinformatics, and health informatics. Nevertheless, beginners and biomedical researchers often do not have enough experience to run a data mining project effectively, and therefore can follow incorrect practices, that may lead to common mistakes or over-optimistic results. With this review, we present ten quick tips to take advantage of machine learning in any computational biology context, by avoiding some common errors that we observed hundreds of times in multiple bioinformatics projects. We believe our ten suggestions can strongly help any machine learning practitioner to carry on a successful project in computational biology and related sciences.

Concepts: DNA, Scientific method, Bioinformatics, Error, Machine learning, Computational biology, Computational genomics, Computer science


Technological advances in genomics and imaging have led to an explosion of molecular and cellular profiling data from large numbers of samples. This rapid increase in biological data dimension and acquisition rate is challenging conventional analysis strategies. Modern machine learning methods, such as deep learning, promise to leverage very large data sets for finding hidden structure within them, and for making accurate predictions. In this review, we discuss applications of this new breed of analysis approaches in regulatory genomics and cellular imaging. We provide background of what deep learning is, and the settings in which it can be successfully applied to derive biological insights. In addition to presenting specific applications and providing tips for practical use, we also highlight possible pitfalls and limitations to guide computational biologists when and how to make the most use of this new technology.

Concepts: Scientific method, Bioinformatics, Biology, Machine learning, Learning, Computational biology, Computational genomics, Technology


Genomic pipelines consist of several pieces of third party software and, because of their experimental nature, frequent changes and updates are commonly necessary thus raising serious deployment and reproducibility issues. Docker containers are emerging as a possible solution for many of these problems, as they allow the packaging of pipelines in an isolated and self-contained manner. This makes it easy to distribute and execute pipelines in a portable manner across a wide range of computing platforms. Thus, the question that arises is to what extent the use of Docker containers might affect the performance of these pipelines. Here we address this question and conclude that Docker containers have only a minor impact on the performance of common genomic pipelines, which is negligible when the executed jobs are long in terms of computational time.

Concepts: Computer, Computational genomics, Impact factor, Capital punishment, Computing, Computing platform, Computing platforms


The proliferation of large genomic databases offers the potential to perform increasingly larger-scale genome-wide association studies (GWASs). Due to privacy concerns, however, access to these data is limited, greatly reducing their usefulness for research. Here, we introduce a computational framework for performing GWASs that adapts principles of differential privacy-a cryptographic theory that facilitates secure analysis of sensitive data-to both protect private phenotype information (e.g., disease status) and correct for population stratification. This framework enables us to produce privacy-preserving GWAS results based on EIGENSTRAT and linear mixed model (LMM)-based statistics, both of which correct for population stratification. We test our differentially private statistics, PrivSTRAT and PrivLMM, on simulated and real GWAS datasets and find they are able to protect privacy while returning meaningful results. Our framework can be used to securely query private genomic datasets to discover which specific genomic alterations may be associated with a disease, thus increasing the availability of these valuable datasets.

Concepts: Statistics, Mathematics, Demography, Population, Genome-wide association study, Performance, Computational genomics, World population


The ethical landscape in the field of genomics is rapidly shifting. Plummeting sequencing costs, along with ongoing advances in bioinformatics, now make it possible to generate an enormous volume of genomic data about vast numbers of people. The informational richness, complexity, and frequently uncertain meaning of these data, coupled with evolving norms surrounding the sharing of data and samples and persistent privacy concerns, have generated a range of approaches to the ethical management of genomic information. As calls increase for the expanded use of broad or even open consent, and as controversy grows about how best to handle incidental genomic findings, these approaches, informed by normative analysis and empirical data, will continue to evolve alongside the science.

Concepts: Scientific method, Genetics, Bioinformatics, Genomics, Science, Empirical, Computational genomics, Functional genomics


Bioinformatics is recognized as part of the essential knowledge base of numerous career paths in biomedical research and healthcare. However, there is little agreement in the field over what that knowledge entails or how best to provide it. These disagreements are compounded by the wide range of populations in need of bioinformatics training, with divergent prior backgrounds and intended application areas. The Curriculum Task Force of the International Society of Computational Biology (ISCB) Education Committee has sought to provide a framework for training needs and curricula in terms of a set of bioinformatics core competencies that cut across many user personas and training programs. The initial competencies developed based on surveys of employers and training programs have since been refined through a multiyear process of community engagement. This report describes the current status of the competencies and presents a series of use cases illustrating how they are being applied in diverse training contexts. These use cases are intended to demonstrate how others can make use of the competencies and engage in the process of their continuing refinement and application. The report concludes with a consideration of remaining challenges and future plans.

Concepts: Bioinformatics, Biology, Future, Education, Computer program, Computational biology, Computational genomics, Curriculum


Analyzing high throughput genomics data is a complex and compute intensive task, generally requiring numerous software tools and large reference data sets, tied together in successive stages of data transformation and visualisation. A computational platform enabling best practice genomics analysis ideally meets a number of requirements, including: a wide range of analysis and visualisation tools, closely linked to large user and reference data sets; workflow platform(s) enabling accessible, reproducible, portable analyses, through a flexible set of interfaces; highly available, scalable computational resources; and flexibility and versatility in the use of these resources to meet demands and expertise of a variety of users. Access to an appropriate computational platform can be a significant barrier to researchers, as establishing such a platform requires a large upfront investment in hardware, experience, and expertise.

Concepts: Scientific method, Bioinformatics, Critical thinking, Mathematical analysis, Computer, Logic, Computational genomics, Analysis


BACKGROUND: Biology-focused databases and software define bioinformatics and their use is central to computational biology. In such a complex and dynamic field, it is of interest to understand what resources are available, which are used, how much they are used, and for what they are used. While scholarly literature surveys can provide some insights, large-scale computer-based approaches to identify mentions of bioinformatics databases and software from primary literature would automate systematic cataloguing, facilitate the monitoring of usage, and provide the foundations for the recovery of computational methods for analysing biological data, with the long-term aim of identifying best/common practice in different areas of biology. RESULTS: We have developed bioNerDS, a named entity recogniser for the recovery of bioinformatics databases and software from primary literature. We identify such entities with an F-measure ranging from 63% to 91% at the mention level and 63-78% at the document level, depending on corpus. Not attaining a higher F-measure is mostly due to high ambiguity in resource naming, which is compounded by the on-going introduction of new resources. To demonstrate the software, we applied bioNerDS to full-text articles from BMC Bioinformatics and Genome Biology. General mention patterns reflect the remit of these journals, highlighting BMC Bioinformatics’s emphasis on new tools and Genome Biology’s greater emphasis on data analysis. The data also illustrates some shifts in resource usage: for example, the past decade has seen R and the Gene Ontology join BLAST and GenBank as the main components in bioinformatics processing. CONCLUSIONS: We demonstrate the feasibility of automatically identifying resource names on a large-scale from the scientific literature and show that the generated data can be used for exploration of bioinformatics database and software usage. For example, our results help to investigate the rate of change in resource usage and corroborate the suspicion that a vast majority of resources are created, but rarely (if ever) used thereafter. bioNerDS is available at

Concepts: DNA, Bioinformatics, Database, Academic publishing, Computational biology, Computational genomics, Application software, Software