Posts Tagged ‘machine learning’

A Nonlinear Methodology to Explain Complexity of the Genome and Bioinformatic Information

Reporter: Stephen J. Williams, Ph.D.

Multifractal bioinformatics: A proposal to the nonlinear interpretation of genome

The following is an open access article by Pedro Moreno on a methodology to analyze genetic information across species and in particular, the evolutionary trends of complex genomes, by a nonlinear analytic approach utilizing fractal geometry, coined “Nonlinear Bioinformatics”.  This fractal approach stems from the complex nature of higher eukaryotic genomes including mosaicism, multiple interdispersed  genomic elements such as intronic regions, noncoding regions, and also mobile elements such as transposable elements.  Although seemingly random, there exists a repetitive nature of these elements. Such complexity of DNA regulation, structure and genomic variation is felt best understood by developing algorithms based on fractal analysis, which can best model the regionalized and repetitive variability and structure within complex genomes by elucidating the individual components which contributes to an overall complex structure rather than using a “linear” or “reductionist” approach looking at individual coding regions, which does not take into consideration the aforementioned factors leading to genetic complexity and diversity.

Indeed, many other attempts to describe the complexities of DNA as a fractal geometric pattern have been described.  In a paper by Carlo Cattani “Fractals and Hidden Symmetries in DNA“, Carlo uses fractal analysis to construct a simple geometric pattern of the influenza A virus by modeling the primary sequence of this viral DNA, namely the bases A,G,C, and T. The main conclusions that

fractal shapes and symmetries in DNA sequences and DNA walks have been shown and compared with random and deterministic complex series. DNA sequences are structured in such a way that there exists some fractal behavior which can be observed both on the correlation matrix and on the DNA walks. Wavelet analysis confirms by a symmetrical clustering of wavelet coefficients the existence of scale symmetries.

suggested that, at least, the viral influenza genome structure could be analyzed into its basic components by fractal geometry.
This approach has been used to model the complex nature of cancer as discussed in a 2011 Seminars in Oncology paper
Abstract: Cancer is a highly complex disease due to the disruption of tissue architecture. Thus, tissues, and not individual cells, are the proper level of observation for the study of carcinogenesis. This paradigm shift from a reductionist approach to a systems biology approach is long overdue. Indeed, cell phenotypes are emergent modes arising through collective non-linear interactions among different cellular and microenvironmental components, generally described by “phase space diagrams”, where stable states (attractors) are embedded into a landscape model. Within this framework, cell states and cell transitions are generally conceived as mainly specified by gene-regulatory networks. However, the system s dynamics is not reducible to the integrated functioning of the genome-proteome network alone; the epithelia-stroma interacting system must be taken into consideration in order to give a more comprehensive picture. Given that cell shape represents the spatial geometric configuration acquired as a result of the integrated set of cellular and environmental cues, we posit that fractal-shape parameters represent “omics descriptors of the epithelium-stroma system. Within this framework, function appears to follow form, and not the other way around.

As authors conclude

” Transitions from one phenotype to another are reminiscent of phase transitions observed in physical systems. The description of such transitions could be obtained by a set of morphological, quantitative parameters, like fractal measures. These parameters provide reliable information about system complexity. “

Gene expression also displays a fractal nature. In a Frontiers in Physiology paper by Mahboobeh Ghorbani, Edmond A. Jonckheere and Paul Bogdan* “Gene Expression Is Not Random: Scaling, Long-Range Cross-Dependence, and Fractal Characteristics of Gene Regulatory Networks“,

the authors describe that gene expression networks display time series display fractal and long-range dependence characteristics.

Abstract: Gene expression is a vital process through which cells react to the environment and express functional behavior. Understanding the dynamics of gene expression could prove crucial in unraveling the physical complexities involved in this process. Specifically, understanding the coherent complex structure of transcriptional dynamics is the goal of numerous computational studies aiming to study and finally control cellular processes. Here, we report the scaling properties of gene expression time series in Escherichia coliand Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Unlike previous studies, which report the fractal and long-range dependency of DNA structure, we investigate the individual gene expression dynamics as well as the cross-dependency between them in the context of gene regulatory network. Our results demonstrate that the gene expression time series display fractal and long-range dependence characteristics. In addition, the dynamics between genes and linked transcription factors in gene regulatory networks are also fractal and long-range cross-correlated. The cross-correlation exponents in gene regulatory networks are not unique. The distribution of the cross-correlation exponents of gene regulatory networks for several types of cells can be interpreted as a measure of the complexity of their functional behavior.


Given that multitude of complex biomolecular networks and biomolecules can be described by fractal patterns, the development of bioinformatic algorithms  would enhance our understanding of the interdependence and cross funcitonality of these mutiple biological networks, particularly in disease and drug resistance.  The article below by Pedro Moreno describes the development of such bioinformatic algorithms.

Pedro A. Moreno
Escuela de Ingeniería de Sistemas y Computación, Facultad de Ingeniería, Universidad del Valle, Cali, Colombia

Eje temático: Ingeniería de sistemas / System engineering
Recibido: 19 de septiembre de 2012
Aceptado: 16 de diciembre de 2013




The first draft of the human genome (HG) sequence was published in 2001 by two competing consortia. Since then, several structural and functional characteristics for the HG organization have been revealed. Today, more than 2.000 HG have been sequenced and these findings are impacting strongly on the academy and public health. Despite all this, a major bottleneck, called the genome interpretation persists. That is, the lack of a theory that explains the complex puzzles of coding and non-coding features that compose the HG as a whole. Ten years after the HG sequenced, two recent studies, discussed in the multifractal formalism allow proposing a nonlinear theory that helps interpret the structural and functional variation of the genetic information of the genomes. The present review article discusses this new approach, called: “Multifractal bioinformatics”.

Keywords: Omics sciences, bioinformatics, human genome, multifractal analysis.

1. Introduction

Omic Sciences and Bioinformatics

In order to study the genomes, their life properties and the pathological consequences of impairment, the Human Genome Project (HGP) was created in 1990. Since then, about 500 Gpb (EMBL) represented in thousands of prokaryotic genomes and tens of different eukaryotic genomes have been sequenced (NCBI, 1000 Genomes, ENCODE). Today, Genomics is defined as the set of sciences and technologies dedicated to the comprehensive study of the structure, function and origin of genomes. Several types of genomic have arisen as a result of the expansion and implementation of genomics to the study of the Central Dogma of Molecular Biology (CDMB), Figure 1 (above). The catalog of different types of genomics uses the Latin suffix “-omic” meaning “set of” to mean the new massive approaches of the new omics sciences (Moreno et al, 2009). Given the large amount of genomic information available in the databases and the urgency of its actual interpretation, the balance has begun to lean heavily toward the requirements of bioinformatics infrastructure research laboratories Figure 1 (below).

The bioinformatics or Computational Biology is defined as the application of computer and information technology to the analysis of biological data (Mount, 2004). An interdisciplinary science that requires the use of computing, applied mathematics, statistics, computer science, artificial intelligence, biophysical information, biochemistry, genetics, and molecular biology. Bioinformatics was born from the need to understand the sequences of nucleotide or amino acid symbols that make up DNA and proteins, respectively. These analyzes are made possible by the development of powerful algorithms that predict and reveal an infinity of structural and functional features in genomic sequences, as gene location, discovery of homologies between macromolecules databases (Blast), algorithms for phylogenetic analysis, for the regulatory analysis or the prediction of protein folding, among others. This great development has created a multiplicity of approaches giving rise to new types of Bioinformatics, such as Multifractal Bioinformatics (MFB) that is proposed here.

1.1 Multifractal Bioinformatics and Theoretical Background

MFB is a proposal to analyze information content in genomes and their life properties in a non-linear way. This is part of a specialized sub-discipline called “nonlinear Bioinformatics”, which uses a number of related techniques for the study of nonlinearity (fractal geometry, Hurts exponents, power laws, wavelets, among others.) and applied to the study of biological problems ( For its application, we must take into account a detailed knowledge of the structure of the genome to be analyzed and an appropriate knowledge of the multifractal analysis.

1.2 From the Worm Genome toward Human Genome

To explore a complex genome such as the HG it is relevant to implement multifractal analysis (MFA) in a simpler genome in order to show its practical utility. For example, the genome of the small nematode Caenorhabditis elegans is an excellent model to learn many extrapolated lessons of complex organisms. Thus, if the MFA explains some of the structural properties in that genome it is expected that this same analysis reveals some similar properties in the HG.

The C. elegans nuclear genome is composed of about 100 Mbp, with six chromosomes distributed into five autosomes and one sex chromosome. The molecular structure of the genome is particularly homogeneous along with the chromosome sequences, due to the presence of several regular features, including large contents of genes and introns of similar sizes. The C. elegans genome has also a regional organization of the chromosomes, mainly because the majority of the repeated sequences are located in the chromosome arms, Figure 2 (left) (C. elegans Sequencing Consortium, 1998). Given these regular and irregular features, the MFA could be an appropriate approach to analyze such distributions.

Meanwhile, the HG sequencing revealed a surprising mosaicism in coding (genes) and noncoding (repetitive DNA) sequences, Figure 2 (right) (Venter et al., 2001). This structure of 6 Gbp is divided into 23 pairs of chromosomes (diploid cells) and these highly regionalized sequences introduce complex patterns of regularity and irregularity to understand the gene structure, the composition of sequences of repetitive DNA and its role in the study and application of life sciences. The coding regions of the genome are estimated at ~25,000 genes which constitute 1.4% of GH. These genes are involved in a giant sea of various types of non-coding sequences which compose 98.6% of HG (misnamed popularly as “junk DNA”). The non-coding regions are characterized by many types of repeated DNA sequences, where 10.6% consists of Alu sequences, a type of SINE (short and dispersed repeated elements) sequence and preferentially located towards the genes. LINES, MIR, MER, LTR, DNA transposons and introns are another type of non-coding sequences which form about 86% of the genome. Some of these sequences overlap with each other; as with CpG islands, which complicates the analysis of genomic landscape. This standard genomic landscape was recently clarified, the last studies show that 80.4% of HG is functional due to the discovery of more than five million “switches” that operate and regulate gene activity, re-evaluating the concept of “junk DNA”. (The ENCODE Project Consortium, 2012).

Given that all these genomic variations both in worm and human produce regionalized genomic landscapes it is proposed that Fractal Geometry (FG) would allow measuring how the genetic information content is fragmented. In this paper the methodology and the nonlinear descriptive models for each of these genomes will be reviewed.

1.3 The MFA and its Application to Genome Studies

Most problems in physics are implicitly non-linear in nature, generating phenomena such as chaos theory, a science that deals with certain types of (non-linear) but very sensitive dynamic systems to initial conditions, nonetheless of deterministic rigor, that is that their behavior can be completely determined by knowing initial conditions (Peitgen et al, 1992). In turn, the FG is an appropriate tool to study the chaotic dynamic systems (CDS). In other words, the FG and chaos are closely related because the space region toward which a chaotic orbit tends asymptotically has a fractal structure (strange attractors). Therefore, the FG allows studying the framework on which CDS are defined (Moon, 1992). And this is how it is expected for the genome structure and function to be organized.

The MFA is an extension of the FG and it is related to (Shannon) information theory, disciplines that have been very useful to study the information content over a sequence of symbols. Initially, Mandelbrot established the FG in the 80’s, as a geometry capable of measuring the irregularity of nature by calculating the fractal dimension (D), an exponent derived from a power law (Mandelbrot, 1982). The value of the D gives us a measure of the level of fragmentation or the information content for a complex phenomenon. That is because the D measures the scaling degree that the fragmented self-similarity of the system has. Thus, the FG looks for self-similar properties in structures and processes at different scales of resolution and these self-similarities are organized following scaling or power laws.

Sometimes, an exponent is not sufficient to characterize a complex phenomenon; so more exponents are required. The multifractal formalism allows this, and applies when many subgroups of fractals with different scalar properties with a large number of exponents or fractal dimensions coexist simultaneously. As a result, when a spectrum of multifractal singularity measurement is generated, the scaling behavior of the frequency of symbols of a sequence can be quantified (Vélez et al, 2010).

The MFA has been implemented to study the spatial heterogeneity of theoretical and experimental fractal patterns in different disciplines. In post-genomics times, the MFA was used to study multiple biological problems (Vélez et al, 2010). Nonetheless, very little attention has been given to the use of MFA to characterize the content of the structural genetic information of the genomes obtained from the images of the Chaos Representation Game (CRG). First studies at this level were made recently to the analysis of the C. elegans genome (Vélez et al, 2010) and human genomes (Moreno et al, 2011). The MFA methodology applied for the study of these genomes will be developed below.

2. Methodology

The Multifractal Formalism from the CGR

2.1 Data Acquisition and Molecular Parameters

Databases for the C. elegans and the 36.2 Hs_ refseq HG version were downloaded from the NCBI FTP server. Then, several strategies were designed to fragment the genomic DNA sequences of different length ranges. For example, the C. elegans genome was divided into 18 fragments, Figure 2 (left) and the human genome in 9,379 fragments. According to their annotation systems, the contents of molecular parameters of coding sequences (genes, exons and introns), noncoding sequences (repetitive DNA, Alu, LINES, MIR, MER, LTR, promoters, etc.) and coding/ non-coding DNA (TTAGGC, AAAAT, AAATT, TTTTC, TTTTT, CpG islands, etc.) are counted for each sequence.

2.2 Construction of the CGR 2.3 Fractal Measurement by the Box Counting Method

Subsequently, the CGR, a recursive algorithm (Jeffrey, 1990; Restrepo et al, 2009) is applied to each selected DNA sequence, Figure 3 (above, left) and from which an image is obtained, which is quantified by the box-counting algorithm. For example, in Figure 3 (above, left) a CGR image for a human DNA sequence of 80,000 bp in length is shown. Here, dark regions represent sub-quadrants with a high number of points (or nucleotides). Clear regions, sections with a low number of points. The calculation for the D for the Koch curve by the box-counting method is illustrated by a progression of changes in the grid size, and its Cartesian graph, Table 1

The CGR image for a given DNA sequence is quantified by a standard fractal analysis. A fractal is a fragmented geometric figure whose parts are an approximated copy at full scale, that is, the figure has self-similarity. The D is basically a scaling rule that the figure obeys. Generally, a power law is given by the following expression:

Where N(E) is the number of parts required for covering the figure when a scaling factor E is applied. The power law permits to calculate the fractal dimension as:

The D obtained by the box-counting algorithm covers the figure with disjoint boxes ɛ = 1/E and counts the number of boxes required. Figure 4 (above, left) shows the multifractal measure at momentum q=1.

2.4 Multifractal Measurement

When generalizing the box-counting algorithm for the multifractal case and according to the method of moments q, we obtain the equation (3) (Gutiérrez et al, 1998; Yu et al, 2001):

Where the Mi number of points falling in the i-th grid is determined and related to the total number Mand ɛ to box size. Thus, the MFA is used when multiple scaling rules are applied. Figure 4 (above, right) shows the calculation of the multifractal measures at different momentum q (partition function). Here, linear regressions must have a coefficient of determination equal or close to 1. From each linear regression D are obtained, which generate an spectrum of generalized fractal dimensions Dfor all q integers, Figure 4 (below, left). So, the multifractal spectrum is obtained as the limit:

The variation of the q integer allows emphasizing different regions and discriminating their fractal a high Dq is synonymous of the structure’s richness and the properties of these regions. Negative values emphasize the scarce regions; a high Dindicates a lot of structure and properties in these regions. In real world applications, the limit Dqreadily approximated from the data using a linear fitting: the transformation of the equation (3) yields:

Which shows that ln In(Mi )= for set q is a linear function in the ln(ɛ), Dq can therefore be evaluated as q the slope of a fixed relationship between In(Mi )= and (q-1) ln(ɛ). The methodologies and approaches for the method of box-counting and MFA are detailed in Moreno et al, 2000, Yu et al, 2001; Moreno, 2005. For a rigorous mathematical development of MFA from images consult Multifractal system, wikipedia.

2.5 Measurement of Information Content

Subsequently, from the spectrum of generalized dimensions Dq, the degree of multifractality ΔDq(MD) is calculated as the difference between the maximum and minimum values of : ΔD qq Dqmax – Dqmin (Ivanov et al, 1999). When qmaxqmin ΔDis high, the multifractal spectrum is rich in information and highly aperiodic, when ΔDq is small, the resulting dimension spectrum is poor in information and highly periodic. It is expected then, that the aperiodicity in the genome would be related to highly polymorphic genomic aperiodic structures and those periodic regions with highly repetitive and not very polymorphic genomic structures. The correlation exponent t(q) = (– 1)DqFigure 4 (below, right ) can also be obtained from the multifractal dimension Dq. The generalized dimension also provides significant specific information. D(q = 0) is equal to the Capacity dimension, which in this analysis is the size of the “box count”. D(q = 1) is equal to the Information dimension and D(q = 2) to the Correlation dimension. Based on these multifractal parameters, many of the structural genomic properties can be quantified, related, and interpreted.

2.6 Multifractal Parameters and Statistical and Discrimination Analyses

Once the multifractal parameters are calculated (D= (-20, 20), ΔDq, πq, etc.), correlations with the molecular parameters are sought. These relations are established by plotting the number of genome molecular parameters versus MD by discriminant analysis with Cartesian graphs in 2-D, Figure 5 (below, left) and 3-D and combining multifractal and molecular parameters. Finally, simple linear regression analysis, multivariate analysis, and analyses by ranges and clusterings are made to establish statistical significance.

3 Results and Discussion

3.1 Non-linear Descriptive Model for the C. elegans Genome

When analyzing the C. elegans genome with the multifractal formalism it revealed what symmetry and asymmetry on the genome nucleotide composition suggested. Thus, the multifractal scaling of the C. elegans genome is of interest because it indicates that the molecular structure of the chromosome may be organized as a system operating far from equilibrium following nonlinear laws (Ivanov et al, 1999; Burgos and Moreno-Tovar, 1996). This can be discussed from two points of view:

1) When comparing C. elegans chromosomes with each other, the X chromosome showed the lowest multifractality, Figure 5 (above). This means that the X chromosome is operating close to equilibrium, which results in an increased genetic instability. Thus, the instability of the X could selectively contribute to the molecular mechanism that determines sex (XX or X0) during meiosis. Thus, the X chromosome would be operating closer to equilibrium in order to maintain their particular sexual dimorphism.

2) When comparing different chromosome regions of the C. elegans genome, changes in multifractality were found in relation to the regional organization (at the center and arms) exhibited by the chromosomes, Figure 5 (below, left). These behaviors are associated with changes in the content of repetitive DNA, Figure 5 (below, right). The results indicated that the chromosome arms are even more complex than previously anticipated. Thus, TTAGGC telomere sequences would be operating far from equilibrium to protect the genetic information encoded by the entire chromosome.

All these biological arguments may explain why C. elegans genome is organized in a nonlinear way. These findings provide insight to quantify and understand the organization of the non-linear structure of the C. elegans genome, which may be extended to other genomes, including the HG (Vélez et al, 2010).

3.2 Nonlinear Descriptive Model for the Human Genome

Once the multifractal approach was validated in C. elegans genome, HG was analyzed exhaustively. This allowed us to propose a nonlinear model for the HG structure which will be discussed under three points of view.

1) It was found that the HG high multifractality depends strongly on the contents of Alu sequences and to a lesser extent on the content of CpG islands. These contents would be located primarily in highly aperiodic regions, thus taking the chromosome far from equilibrium and giving to it greater genetic stability, protection and attraction of mutations, Figure 6 (A-C). Thus, hundreds of regions in the HG may have high genetic stability and the most important genetic information of the HG, the genes, would be safeguarded from environmental fluctuations. Other repeated elements (LINES, MIR, MER, LTRs) showed no significant relationship,

Figure 6 (D). Consequently, the human multifractal map developed in Moreno et al, 2011 constitutes a good tool to identify those regions rich in genetic information and genomic stability. 2) The multifractal context seems to be a significant requirement for the structural and functional organization of thousands of genes and gene families. Thus, a high multifractal context (aperiodic) appears to be a “genomic attractor” for many genes (KOGs, KEEGs), Figure 6 (E) and some gene families, Figure 6 (F) are involved in genetic and deterministic processes, in order to maintain a deterministic regulation control in the genome, although most of HG sequences may be subject to a complex epigenetic control.

3) The classification of human chromosomes and chromosome regions analysis may have some medical implications (Moreno et al, 2002; Moreno et al, 2009). This means that the structure of low nonlinearity exhibited by some chromosomes (or chromosome regions) involve an environmental predisposition, as potential targets to undergo structural or numerical chromosomal alterations in Figure 6 (G). Additionally, sex chromosomes should have low multifractality to maintain sexual dimorphism and probably the X chromosome inactivation.

All these fractals and biological arguments could explain why Alu elements are shaping the HG in a nonlinearly manner (Moreno et al, 2011). Finally, the multifractal modeling of the HG serves as theoretical framework to examine new discoveries made by the ENCODE project and new approaches about human epigenomes. That is, the non-linear organization of HG might help to explain why it is expected that most of the GH is functional.

4. Conclusions

All these results show that the multifractal formalism is appropriate to quantify and evaluate genetic information contents in genomes and to relate it with the known molecular anatomy of the genome and some of the expected properties. Thus, the MFB allows interpreting in a logic manner the structural nature and variation of the genome.

The MFB allows understanding why a number of chromosomal diseases are likely to occur in the genome, thus opening a new perspective toward personalized medicine to study and interpret the GH and its diseases.

The entire genome contains nonlinear information organizing it and supposedly making it function, concluding that virtually 100% of HG is functional. Bioinformatics in general, is enriched with a novel approach (MFB) making it possible to quantify the genetic information content of any DNA sequence and their practical applications to different disciplines in biology, medicine and agriculture. This novel breakthrough in computational genomic analysis and diseases contributes to define Biology as a “hard” science.

MFB opens a door to develop a research program towards the establishment of an integrative discipline that contributes to “break” the code of human life. (http://pharmaceuticalintelligence. com/page/3/).

5. Acknowledgements

Thanks to the directives of the EISC, the Universidad del Valle and the School of Engineering for offering an academic, scientific and administrative space for conducting this research. Likewise, thanks to co authors (professors and students) who participated in the implementation of excerpts from some of the works cited here. Finally, thanks to Colciencias by the biotechnology project grant # 1103-12-16765.

6. References

Blanco, S., & Moreno, P.A. (2007). Representación del juego del caos para el análisis de secuencias de ADN y proteínas mediante el análisis multifractal (método “box-counting”). In The Second International Seminar on Genomics and Proteomics, Bioinformatics and Systems Biology (pp. 17-25). Popayán, Colombia.         [ Links ]

Burgos, J.D., & Moreno-Tovar, P. (1996). Zipf scaling behavior in the immune system. BioSystem , 39, 227-232.         [ Links ]

C. elegans Sequencing Consortium. (1998). Genome sequence of the nematode C. elegans: a platform for investigating biology. Science , 282, 2012-2018.         [ Links ]

Gutiérrez, J.M., Iglesias A., Rodríguez, M.A., Burgos, J.D., & Moreno, P.A. (1998). Analyzing the multifractals structure of DNA nucleotide sequences. In, M. Barbie & S. Chillemi (Eds.) Chaos and Noise in Biology and Medicine (cap. 4). Hackensack (NJ): World Scientific Publishing Co.         [ Links ]

Ivanov, P.Ch., Nunes, L.A., Golberger, A.L., Havlin, S., Rosenblum, M.G., Struzikk, Z.R., & Stanley, H.E. (1999). Multifractality in human heartbeat dynamics. Nature , 399, 461-465.         [ Links ]

Jeffrey, H.J. (1990). Chaos game representation of gene structure. Nucleic Acids Research , 18, 2163-2175.         [ Links ]

Mandelbrot, B. (1982). La geometría fractal de la naturaleza. Barcelona. España: Tusquets editores.         [ Links ]

Moon, F.C. (1992). Chaotic and fractal dynamics. New York: John Wiley.         [ Links ]

Moreno, P.A. (2005). Large scale and small scale bioinformatics studies on the Caenorhabditis elegans enome. Doctoral thesis. Department of Biology and Biochemistry, University of Houston, Houston, USA.         [ Links ]

Moreno, P.A., Burgos, J.D., Vélez, P.E., Gutiérrez, J.M., & et al., (2000). Multifractal analysis of complete genomes. In P roceedings of the 12th International Genome Sequencing and Analysis Conference (pp. 80-81). Miami Beach (FL).         [ Links ]

Moreno, P.A., Rodríguez, J.G., Vélez, P.E., Cubillos, J.R., & Del Portillo, P. (2002). La genómica aplicada en salud humana. Colombia Ciencia y Tecnología. Colciencias , 20, 14-21.         [ Links ]

Moreno, P.A., Vélez, P.E., & Burgos, J.D. (2009). Biología molecular, genómica y post-genómica. Pioneros, principios y tecnologías. Popayán, Colombia: Editorial Universidad del Cauca.         [ Links ]

Moreno, P.A., Vélez, P.E., Martínez, E., Garreta, L., Díaz, D., Amador, S., Gutiérrez, J.M., et. al. (2011). The human genome: a multifractal analysis. BMC Genomics , 12, 506.         [ Links ]

Mount, D.W. (2004). Bioinformatics. Sequence and ge nome analysis. New York: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.         [ Links ]

Peitgen, H.O., Jürgen, H., & Saupe D. (1992). Chaos and Fractals. New Frontiers of Science. New York: Springer-Verlag.         [ Links ]

Restrepo, S., Pinzón, A., Rodríguez, L.M., Sierra, R., Grajales, A., Bernal, A., Barreto, E. et. al. (2009). Computational biology in Colombia. PLoS Computational Biology, 5 (10), e1000535.         [ Links ]

The ENCODE Project Consortium. (2012). An integrated encyclopedia of DNA elements in the human genome. Nature , 489, 57-74.         [ Links ]

Vélez, P.E., Garreta, L.E., Martínez, E., Díaz, N., Amador, S., Gutiérrez, J.M., Tischer, I., & Moreno, P.A. (2010). The Caenorhabditis elegans genome: a multifractal analysis. Genet and Mol Res , 9, 949-965.         [ Links ]

Venter, J.C., Adams, M.D., Myers, E.W., Li, P.W., & et al. (2001). The sequence of the human genome. Science , 291, 1304-1351.         [ Links ]

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Other articles on Bioinformatics on this Open Access Journal include:

Bioinformatics Tool Review: Genome Variant Analysis Tools

2017 Agenda – BioInformatics: Track 6: BioIT World Conference & Expo ’17, May 23-35, 2017, Seaport World Trade Center, Boston, MA

Better bioinformatics

Broad Institute, Google Genomics combine bioinformatics and computing expertise

Autophagy-Modulating Proteins and Small Molecules Candidate Targets for Cancer Therapy: Commentary of Bioinformatics Approaches

CRACKING THE CODE OF HUMAN LIFE: The Birth of BioInformatics & Computational Genomics


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Role of Informatics in Precision Medicine: Notes from Boston Healthcare Webinar: Can It Drive the Next Cost Efficiencies in Oncology Care?

Reporter: Stephen J. Williams, Ph.D.


Boston Healthcare sponsored a Webinar recently entitled ” Role of Informatics in Precision Medicine: Implications for Innovators”.  The webinar focused on the different informatic needs along the Oncology Care value chain from drug discovery through clinicians, C-suite executives and payers. The presentation, by Joseph Ferrara and Mark Girardi, discussed the specific informatics needs and deficiencies experienced by all players in oncology care and how innovators in this space could create value. The final part of the webinar discussed artificial intelligence and the role in cancer informatics.


Below is the mp4 video and audio for this webinar.  Notes on each of the slides with a few representative slides are also given below:

Please click below for the mp4 of the webinar:



  • worldwide oncology related care to increase by 40% in 2020
  • big movement to participatory care: moving decision making to the patient. Need for information
  • cost components focused on clinical action
  • use informatics before clinical stage might add value to cost chain





Key unmet needs from perspectives of different players in oncology care where informatics may help in decision making




  1.   Needs of Clinicians

– informatic needs for clinical enrollment

– informatic needs for obtaining drug access/newer therapies

2.  Needs of C-suite/health system executives

– informatic needs to help focus of quality of care

– informatic needs to determine health outcomes/metrics

3.  Needs of Payers

– informatic needs to determine quality metrics and managing costs

– informatics needs to form guidelines

– informatics needs to determine if biomarkers are used consistently and properly

– population level data analytics













What are the kind of value innovations that tech entrepreneurs need to create in this space? Two areas/problems need to be solved.

  • innovations in data depth and breadth
  • need to aggregate information to inform intervention

Different players in value chains have different data needs




























Data Depth: Cumulative Understanding of disease

Data Depth: Cumulative number of oncology transactions

  • technology innovators rely on LEGACY businesses (those that already have technology) and these LEGACY businesses either have data breath or data depth BUT NOT BOTH; (IS THIS WHERE THE GREATEST VALUE CAN BE INNOVATED?)
  • data depth more important in clinical setting as it drives solutions and cost effective interventions.  For example Foundation Medicine, who supplies genotypic/phenotypic data for patient samples supplies high data depth
  • technologies are moving to data support
  • evidence will need to be tied to umbrella value propositions
  • Informatic solutions will have to prove outcome benefit






How will Machine Learning be involved in the healthcare value chain?

  • Interoperability of DATABASES Important!  Many Players in this space don’t understand the complexities integrating these datasets

Other Articles on this topic of healthcare informatics, value based oncology, and healthcare IT on this OPEN ACCESS JOURNAL include:

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced that the federal healthcare program will cover the costs of cancer gene tests that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration

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Artificial Intelligence Versus the Scientist: Who Will Win?

Will DARPA Replace the Human Scientist: Not So Fast, My Friend!

Writer, Curator: Stephen J. Williams, Ph.D.


Last month’s issue of Science article by Jia You “DARPA Sets Out to Automate Research”[1] gave a glimpse of how science could be conducted in the future: without scientists. The article focused on the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program called ‘Big Mechanism”, a $45 million effort to develop computer algorithms which read scientific journal papers with ultimate goal of extracting enough information to design hypotheses and the next set of experiments,

all without human input.

The head of the project, artificial intelligence expert Paul Cohen, says the overall goal is to help scientists cope with the complexity with massive amounts of information. As Paul Cohen stated for the article:


Just when we need to understand highly connected systems as systems,

our research methods force us to focus on little parts.


The Big Mechanisms project aims to design computer algorithms to critically read journal articles, much as scientists will, to determine what and how the information contributes to the knowledge base.

As a proof of concept DARPA is attempting to model Ras-mutation driven cancers using previously published literature in three main steps:

  1. Natural Language Processing: Machines read literature on cancer pathways and convert information to computational semantics and meaning

One team is focused on extracting details on experimental procedures, using the mining of certain phraseology to determine the paper’s worth (for example using phrases like ‘we suggest’ or ‘suggests a role in’ might be considered weak versus ‘we prove’ or ‘provide evidence’ might be identified by the program as worthwhile articles to curate). Another team led by a computational linguistics expert will design systems to map the meanings of sentences.

  1. Integrate each piece of knowledge into a computational model to represent the Ras pathway on oncogenesis.
  2. Produce hypotheses and propose experiments based on knowledge base which can be experimentally verified in the laboratory.

The Human no Longer Needed?: Not So Fast, my Friend!

The problems the DARPA research teams are encountering namely:

  • Need for data verification
  • Text mining and curation strategies
  • Incomplete knowledge base (past, current and future)
  • Molecular biology not necessarily “requires casual inference” as other fields do


Notice this verification step (step 3) requires physical lab work as does all other ‘omics strategies and other computational biology projects. As with high-throughput microarray screens, a verification is needed usually in the form of conducting qPCR or interesting genes are validated in a phenotypical (expression) system. In addition, there has been an ongoing issue surrounding the validity and reproducibility of some research studies and data.

See Importance of Funding Replication Studies: NIH on Credibility of Basic Biomedical Studies

Therefore as DARPA attempts to recreate the Ras pathway from published literature and suggest new pathways/interactions, it will be necessary to experimentally validate certain points (protein interactions or modification events, signaling events) in order to validate their computer model.

Text-Mining and Curation Strategies

The Big Mechanism Project is starting very small; this reflects some of the challenges in scale of this project. Researchers were only given six paragraph long passages and a rudimentary model of the Ras pathway in cancer and then asked to automate a text mining strategy to extract as much useful information. Unfortunately this strategy could be fraught with issues frequently occurred in the biocuration community namely:

Manual or automated curation of scientific literature?

Biocurators, the scientists who painstakingly sort through the voluminous scientific journal to extract and then organize relevant data into accessible databases, have debated whether manual, automated, or a combination of both curation methods [2] achieves the highest accuracy for extracting the information needed to enter in a database. Abigail Cabunoc, a lead developer for Ontario Institute for Cancer Research’s WormBase (a database of nematode genetics and biology) and Lead Developer at Mozilla Science Lab, noted, on her blog, on the lively debate on biocuration methodology at the Seventh International Biocuration Conference (#ISB2014) that the massive amounts of information will require a Herculaneum effort regardless of the methodology.

Although I will have a future post on the advantages/disadvantages and tools/methodologies of manual vs. automated curation, there is a great article on researchinformation.infoExtracting More Information from Scientific Literature” and also see “The Methodology of Curation for Scientific Research Findings” and “Power of Analogy: Curation in Music, Music Critique as a Curation and Curation of Medical Research Findings – A Comparison” for manual curation methodologies and A MOD(ern) perspective on literature curation for a nice workflow paper on the International Society for Biocuration site.

The Big Mechanism team decided on a full automated approach to text-mine their limited literature set for relevant information however was able to extract only 40% of relevant information from these six paragraphs to the given model. Although the investigators were happy with this percentage most biocurators, whether using a manual or automated method to extract information, would consider 40% a low success rate. Biocurators, regardless of method, have reported ability to extract 70-90% of relevant information from the whole literature (for example for Comparative Toxicogenomics Database)[3-5].

Incomplete Knowledge Base

In an earlier posting (actually was a press release for our first e-book) I had discussed the problem with the “data deluge” we are experiencing in scientific literature as well as the plethora of ‘omics experimental data which needs to be curated.

Tackling the problem of scientific and medical information overload


Figure. The number of papers listed in PubMed (disregarding reviews) during ten year periods have steadily increased from 1970.

Analyzing and sharing the vast amounts of scientific knowledge has never been so crucial to innovation in the medical field. The publication rate has steadily increased from the 70’s, with a 50% increase in the number of original research articles published from the 1990’s to the previous decade. This massive amount of biomedical and scientific information has presented the unique problem of an information overload, and the critical need for methodology and expertise to organize, curate, and disseminate this diverse information for scientists and clinicians. Dr. Larry Bernstein, President of Triplex Consulting and previously chief of pathology at New York’s Methodist Hospital, concurs that “the academic pressures to publish, and the breakdown of knowledge into “silos”, has contributed to this knowledge explosion and although the literature is now online and edited, much of this information is out of reach to the very brightest clinicians.”

Traditionally, organization of biomedical information has been the realm of the literature review, but most reviews are performed years after discoveries are made and, given the rapid pace of new discoveries, this is appearing to be an outdated model. In addition, most medical searches are dependent on keywords, hence adding more complexity to the investigator in finding the material they require. Third, medical researchers and professionals are recognizing the need to converse with each other, in real-time, on the impact new discoveries may have on their research and clinical practice.

These issues require a people-based strategy, having expertise in a diverse and cross-integrative number of medical topics to provide the in-depth understanding of the current research and challenges in each field as well as providing a more conceptual-based search platform. To address this need, human intermediaries, known as scientific curators, are needed to narrow down the information and provide critical context and analysis of medical and scientific information in an interactive manner powered by web 2.0 with curators referred to as the “researcher 2.0”. This curation offers better organization and visibility to the critical information useful for the next innovations in academic, clinical, and industrial research by providing these hybrid networks.

Yaneer Bar-Yam of the New England Complex Systems Institute was not confident that using details from past knowledge could produce adequate roadmaps for future experimentation and noted for the article, “ “The expectation that the accumulation of details will tell us what we want to know is not well justified.”

In a recent post I had curated findings from four lung cancer omics studies and presented some graphic on bioinformatic analysis of the novel genetic mutations resulting from these studies (see link below)

Multiple Lung Cancer Genomic Projects Suggest New Targets, Research Directions for

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

which showed, that while multiple genetic mutations and related pathway ontologies were well documented in the lung cancer literature there existed many significant genetic mutations and pathways identified in the genomic studies but little literature attributed to these lung cancer-relevant mutations.


  This ‘literomics’ analysis reveals a large gap between our knowledge base and the data resulting from large translational ‘omic’ studies.

Different Literature Analyses Approach Yeilding

A ‘literomics’ approach focuses on what we don NOT know about genes, proteins, and their associated pathways while a text-mining machine learning algorithm focuses on building a knowledge base to determine the next line of research or what needs to be measured. Using each approach can give us different perspectives on ‘omics data.

Deriving Casual Inference

Ras is one of the best studied and characterized oncogenes and the mechanisms behind Ras-driven oncogenenis is highly understood.   This, according to computational biologist Larry Hunt of Smart Information Flow Technologies makes Ras a great starting point for the Big Mechanism project. As he states,” Molecular biology is a good place to try (developing a machine learning algorithm) because it’s an area in which common sense plays a minor role”.

Even though some may think the project wouldn’t be able to tackle on other mechanisms which involve epigenetic factors UCLA’s expert in causality Judea Pearl, Ph.D. (head of UCLA Cognitive Systems Lab) feels it is possible for machine learning to bridge this gap. As summarized from his lecture at Microsoft:

“The development of graphical models and the logic of counterfactuals have had a marked effect on the way scientists treat problems involving cause-effect relationships. Practical problems requiring causal information, which long were regarded as either metaphysical or unmanageable can now be solved using elementary mathematics. Moreover, problems that were thought to be purely statistical, are beginning to benefit from analyzing their causal roots.”

According to him first

1) articulate assumptions

2) define research question in counter-inference terms

Then it is possible to design an inference system using calculus that tells the investigator what they need to measure.

To watch a video of Dr. Judea Pearl’s April 2013 lecture at Microsoft Research Machine Learning Summit 2013 (“The Mathematics of Causal Inference: with Reflections on Machine Learning”), click here.

The key for the Big Mechansism Project may me be in correcting for the variables among studies, in essence building a models system which may not rely on fully controlled conditions. Dr. Peter Spirtes from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA is developing a project called the TETRAD project with two goals: 1) to specify and prove under what conditions it is possible to reliably infer causal relationships from background knowledge and statistical data not obtained under fully controlled conditions 2) develop, analyze, implement, test and apply practical, provably correct computer programs for inferring causal structure under conditions where this is possible.

In summary such projects and algorithms will provide investigators the what, and possibly the how should be measured.

So for now it seems we are still needed.


  1. You J: Artificial intelligence. DARPA sets out to automate research. Science 2015, 347(6221):465.
  2. Biocuration 2014: Battle of the New Curation Methods []
  3. Davis AP, Johnson RJ, Lennon-Hopkins K, Sciaky D, Rosenstein MC, Wiegers TC, Mattingly CJ: Targeted journal curation as a method to improve data currency at the Comparative Toxicogenomics Database. Database : the journal of biological databases and curation 2012, 2012:bas051.
  4. Wu CH, Arighi CN, Cohen KB, Hirschman L, Krallinger M, Lu Z, Mattingly C, Valencia A, Wiegers TC, John Wilbur W: BioCreative-2012 virtual issue. Database : the journal of biological databases and curation 2012, 2012:bas049.
  5. Wiegers TC, Davis AP, Mattingly CJ: Collaborative biocuration–text-mining development task for document prioritization for curation. Database : the journal of biological databases and curation 2012, 2012:bas037.

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