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epigenetics: fun

Functional annotation of gene sequences—a visualization workshop. Poznan, Poland. Dec 12, 2015

visualization + design

Creating the Genome Research November 2012 Cover

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Cover image accompanying Spark: A navigational paradigm for genomic data exploration. Genome Research 22 (11). (zoom, Genome Research)

The Genome Research cover design takes a fun and illustrative approach to visualization. It's both art and science — in a 4:1 ratio.

The cover image accompanies the article by Cydney Nielsen from our visualization group, describing her Spark tool for visualization epigenetics data.

Nielsen CB, Younesy H, O'Geen H, Xu X, Jackson AR, et al. (2012) Spark: A navigational paradigm for genomic data exploration. Genome Res 22: 2262-2269.

Instead of a literal depiction of output from Spark, the final design presents what appears to be necklaces of the kind of tiles that Spark uses for its visual presentation. I took a chance that Genome Research had a sense of humor. Luckily, they did and accepted the design for the cover.

Colored tiles are playfully suspended on vertical strings to illustrate how Spark, presented in this issue, uses clustering to group genomic regions (tiles) with similar data patterns (colored heatmaps) and facilitates genome-wide data exploration.Genome Research 22 (11)

The image was published on the November 2012 issue of cover of Genome Research.


Illustrator CS5, and a cup (or two) of Galileo coffee from a Rancilio Epoca.

Other Covers

I had two other covers published this year: the PNAS cover accompanied our manuscript about mouse vasculature development and the Trends in Genetics cover was commissioned.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Cover image accompanying our article on mouse vasculature development. Biology turns astrophysical. PNAS 1 May 2012; 109 (18) (zoom, how it was made, PNAS)
Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Cover image for the human genetics special issue. Trends in Genetics October 2012, 28 (10) (lowres, hires, how it was made, Trends in Genetics)

source of design

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
To lower this computational barrier, particularly in the early data exploration phases, Spark was developed as an interactive pattern discovery and visualization tool for epigenomic data. (Spark)

Thinking about design ideas for the cover, I looked to the kind of visual motifs that Spark used for inspiration. Immediately the colorful tiles, which represent clustered data tracks, stood out.

Spark's output is very stylized, colorful and high contrast. It was important to preserve this aesthetic in the design. I also wanted to incorporate the idea of clustering in the design, as well as the concept that the clusters represented data from different parts of the genome.

While it was not important to illustrate how Spark organizes and analyzed data explicitly — in fact, I wanted these aspects to be subtle — it was important that the cover illustration had connections to Spark at several levels.


Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Many genomics techniques produce measurements that have both a value and a position on a reference genome, for example ChIP-sequencing.

Spark was created by Cydney Nielsen, who works with me at the Genome Sciences Center. It is designed to mitigate the difficulties arising from the fact that genome-wide data is typically scattered across thousands of points of interest.

Genome browsers integrate diverse data sets by plotting them as vertically stacked tracks across a common genomic x-axis. Genome browsers are designed for viewing local regions of interest (e.g. an individual gene) and are frequently used during the initial data inspection and exploration phases.

Most genome browsers support zooming along the genome coordinate. This type of overview is not always useful because it produces a summary across a continuous genomic range (e.g. chromosome 1) and not across the subset of regions that are of interest (e.g. genes on chromosome 1). Spark addresses this shortcoming and provides a way to help answer questions like: What are the common data patterns across genes start sites in my data set?

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Spark's approach to analysis and display of epigenetic data.

Spark's visualization is driven by clustering data tracks (e.g. ChIP-seq coverage) from across equivalent regions (e.g. gene start sites). The clustered tracks are displayed as heatmaps, with each row being a data track and each column a windowed region of the genome.

early comps

With fond memories of Monte Carlo simulations from my physics days, I set out to simulate some realistic-looking, but entirely synthetic, Spark cluster tiles.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
A collection of synthetic Spark tiles, each 7x20.

My first idea was a design which would show these tiles falling, perhaps accumulating on a pile on the ground. Quick prototypes of this idea were disappointing. The tiles appeared flimsy and too complex, while the image was largely empty. I spent several hours messing around with the rotation and pseudo-3D layout, but could not find anything that was satisfying.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Spark tiles, falling.
Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Early attempt at a design. Meh.

I thought to do this right would require a proper simulation within a 3D system.

refining the design

To address the fact that the tiles felt flimsy and overly complicated and the design lacked depth, I simplified the tile simulation to generate 5x5 tiles. These simpler representations still embodied how Spark displayed data, but did so minimally.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
A second attempt at simulating Spark clusters.

To keep with the idea that the clusters come from different regions of the genome, I thought of arranging them along line segments. Unlike the design in which the tiles were falling, this constrained the layout significantly and allowed me to play with the design to make it look like the clusters were draped over it. By casting a light shadow behind each string of tiles, a subtle 3D effect could be achieved while still keeping the design within a plane.

There are 11 orientations of tiles created by rotating a thin square around the vertical axis with a slight forward tilt. There are 5 rotations to the left and right at angles 10, 26, 46, 66 and 80 degrees. The rotation was achieved using Illustrator's Extrude and Bevel 3D filter.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Layout of tiles.
Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Rotated tiles with Spark clusters.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Flight and Fall by Rachel Nottingham. (artist's site)

The layout and rotation of the tiles was inspired by Flight and Fall by Rachel Nottingham, a mobile of paper birds.

I wanted to keep the layout of the spark tiles pleasant, without being too organized. I find this to be a difficult balance to achieve — natural randomness is deceptively difficult to create by hand.

final image

Four different versions of the design were submitted to Genome Research. I was happiest with the treatment in which the tiles maintained their color and the Spark clusters were projected as tones of white. This designed felt more solid and punchy — I feel like you can reach out and touch one of those strings.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Final Spark cover designs. The top left one was chosen by Genome Research.

news + thoughts

Play the Bacteria Game

Thu 19-11-2015

Choose your own dust adventure!

Nobody likes dusting but everyone should find dust interesting.

Working with Jeannie Hunnicutt and with Jen Christiansen's art direction, I created this month's Scientific American Graphic Science visualization based on a recent paper The Ecology of microscopic life in household dust.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
An analysis of dust reveals how the presence of men, women, dogs and cats affects the variety of bacteria in a household. Appears on Graphic Science page in December 2015 issue of Scientific American.

This was my third information graphic for the Graphic Science page. Unlike the previous ones, it's visually simple and ... interactive. Or, at least, as interactive as a printed page can be.

More of my American Scientific Graphic Science designs

Barberan A et al. (2015) The ecology of microscopic life in household dust. Proc. R. Soc. B 282: 20151139.

Names for 5,092 colors

Tue 03-11-2015

A very large list of named colors generated from combining some of the many lists that already exist (X11, Crayola, Raveling, Resene, wikipedia, xkcd, etc).

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Confused? So am I. That's why I made a list.

For each color, coordinates in RGB, HSV, XYZ, Lab and LCH space are given along with the 5 nearest, as measured with ΔE, named neighbours.

I also provide a web service. Simply call this URL with an RGB string.

Simple Linear Regression

Sat 07-11-2015

It is possible to predict the values of unsampled data by using linear regression on correlated sample data.

This month, we begin our column with a quote, shown here in its full context from Box's paper Science and Statistics.

In applying mathematics to subjects such as physics or statistics we make tentative assumptions about the real world which we know are false but which we believe may be useful nonetheless. The physicist knows that particles have mass and yet certain results, approximating what really happens, may be derived from the assumption that they do not. Equally, the statistician knows, for example, that in nature there never was a normal distribution, there never was a straight line, yet with normal and linear assumptions, known to be false, he can often derive results which match, to a useful approximation, those found in the real world.
Box, G. J. Am. Stat. Assoc. 71, 791–799 (1976).

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Nature Methods Points of Significance column: Simple Linear Regression. (read)

This column is our first in the series about regression. We show that regression and correlation are related concepts—they both quantify trends—and that the calculations for simple linear regression are essentially the same as for one-way ANOVA.

While correlation provides a measure of a specific kind of association between variables, regression allows us to fit correlated sample data to a model, which can be used to predict the values of unsampled data.

Altman, N. & Krzywinski, M. (2015) Points of Significance: Simple Linear Regression Nature Methods 12:999-1000.

Background reading

Altman, N. & Krzywinski, M. (2015) Points of significance: Association, correlation and causation Nature Methods 12:899-900.

Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2014) Points of significance: Analysis of variance (ANOVA) and blocking. Nature Methods 11:699-700.

...more about the Points of Significance column

Association, correlation and causation

Sat 07-11-2015

Correlation implies association, but not causation. Conversely, causation implies association, but not correlation.

This month, we distinguish between association, correlation and causation.

Association, also called dependence, is a very general relationship: one variable provides information about the other. Correlation, on the other hand, is a specific kind of association: an increasing or decreasing trend. Not all associations are correlations. Moreover, causality can be connected only to association.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Nature Methods Points of Significance column: Association, correlation and causation. (read)

We discuss how correlation can be quantified using correlation coefficients (Pearson, Spearman) and show how spurious corrlations can arise in random data as well as very large independent data sets. For example, per capita cheese consumption is correlated with the number of people who died by becoming tangled in bedsheets.

Altman, N. & Krzywinski, M. (2015) Points of Significance: Association, correlation and causation Nature Methods 12:899-900.

...more about the Points of Significance column

Bayesian networks

Thu 01-10-2015

For making probabilistic inferences, a graph is worth a thousand words.

This month we continue with the theme of Bayesian statistics and look at Bayesian networks, which combine network analysis with Bayesian statistics.

In a Bayesian network, nodes represent entities, such as genes, and the influence that one gene has over another is represented by a edge and probability table (or function). Bayes' Theorem is used to calculate the probability of a state for any entity.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Nature Methods Points of Significance column: Bayesian networks. (read)

In our previous columns about Bayesian statistics, we saw how new information (likelihood) can be incorporated into the probability model (prior) to update our belief of the state of the system (posterior). In the context of a Bayesian network, relationships called conditional dependencies can arise between nodes when information is added to the network. Using a small gene regulation network we show how these dependencies may connect nodes along different paths.

Background reading

Puga, J.L, Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2015) Points of Significance: Bayesian Statistics Nature Methods 12:277-278.

Puga, J.L, Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2015) Points of Significance: Bayes' Theorem Nature Methods 12:277-278.

...more about the Points of Significance column