Wednesday, July 30, 2008


The scale of Next Gen sequencing is only going to increase, hence we need to fundamentally change the way we work with Next Gen data. New software systems with scalable data models, APIs, software tools, and viewers are needed to support the very large datasets used by the applications that analyze Next Gen DNA sequence data.

That was the theme of a talk I presented at the BOSC (Bioinformatics Open Source Conference) meeting that preceded ISMB (Intelligent Systems for Molecular Biology) in Toronto, Canada, July 19th. You can get the slides from the BOSC site. At the same time, we posted a blog on Genographia, a next-generation genomics community web site devoted to Next Gen sequencing discussions and idea sharing. The key points are summarized below.


The BioHDF project is motivated by the fact that the next and future generations of data collection technologies, like DNA sequencing, are creating ever increasing amounts of data. Getting meaningful information from these data require that multiple programs be used in complex processes. Current practices for working with these data create many kinds of challenges, ranging from managing large numbers of files and formats to having the computation power and bandwidth to make calculations and move data around. These practices have a high cost in terms of storage, CPU, and bandwidth efficiency. In addition, they require significant human effort in understanding idiosyncratic program behavior and output formats

Is there a better way?

Many would agree that if we could reduce the number of file formats, avoid data duplication, and improve how we access and process data, we could develop better performing and more interoperable applications. Doing so requires improved ways of storing data and making it accessible to programs. For a number of years we have thought about these goals might be accomplished and looked to other data-intensive fields to see how others have solved these problems. Our search ended when we found HDF (hierarchical data format), a standard file format and library used in the physical and earth sciences.


HDF5 can be used in many kinds of bioinformatics applications. For specialized areas, like DNA sequencing, domain specific extensions will be needed. BioHDF is about developing those extensions, through community support, to create a file format and accompanying library of software functions that are needed to build the scalable software applications of the future. More will follow, if you are interested contact me: todd at

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