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a rat: curious


See you at Shonan Meeting 167 — Formalizing Biomedical Visualization


Alex — Internet's Most Popular Rat

Poster Rat for Rat Genome Sequencing

The rat genome sequencing project at the Baylor College of Medicine Human Genome Sequencing Centre is complete. The genome has been analyzed and published.

I'd like to introduce you one of the faces of the project: Alex, the genomics rat idol.

Arguably, Alex is the most popular rat on the internet. For the justification of this strong statement, read on.

rat (Rattus norvegicus) on genome sequencer - alex on an abi 3700 / Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Alex, the rat. Rattus norvegicus on an ABI 3700 genome sequencer. (zoom)
rat (rattus norvegicus) on genome sequencer - alex on an abi 3700 / Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Alex, the rat. Rattus norvegicus on an ABI 3700 genome sequencer. (zoom)

Alex's Biography

Alex was born in May 2000. It's well known that a rat's cuteness reaches maximum at about 3-4 weeks. After this critical time, a pet store rat is less likely to be purchased and may be asked to act as snake food. In Alex's case, she was perilously close to her deadline. Luckily for her, we paid a ransom of $6.99 to the Noah's Ark pet shop in Vancouver. She was on her last cute leg.

Portrait of Alex, the genome rat (Rattus norvegicus). / Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Portrait of Alex, the genome rat (Rattus norvegicus). Here, she is seen in a forced portrait position (zoom)

From May 2000 Alex spent most of her time hoarding food pellets and riding on shoulders.

Portrait of Alex, the genome rat (Rattus norvegicus). Riding on shoulder. / Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Portrait of Alex, the genome rat (Rattus norvegicus). Riding on shoulder.

Alex liked to bite. And rats only bite hard — they don't nibble. Her contention for this unattractive behaviour was the uncanny similarity between a finger and a pellet of food.

Other than unpredictable bouts of biting (by far the most exciting aspect of her personality), Alex lacked other distinguishing characteristics.

Alex died of a seizure in late 2002. She was buried outside of the Museum of Anthropology. A ratty pair of underwear served as a burial shroud.

And I hope you got that last pun.

DOWNLOAD ALL PHOTOS.

Photos are for public use. Use, modification and distribution of these photos is unrestricted.

Alex's Popularity

Despite my best efforts at meaningful work, this web page continues to be the most popular of all my online offerings, making for a somewhat embarrassing achievement.

Alex's images consistently show up first in Google's web search for 'rat', 'rat image' and image search for 'rat'.

Portrait of Alex, the genome rat (Rattus norvegicus). / Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Alex image is the first for Google's 'rat' search query (retrieved 16 Mar 2013). (rat Google search)
Portrait of Alex, the genome rat (Rattus norvegicus). / Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Alex image is the first for Google's 'rat image' search query (retrieved 16 Mar 2013). (rat Google search)

Finally, Alex appears as the first entry in Google images for 'rat'.

Portrait of Alex, the genome rat (Rattus norvegicus). / Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Alex image is the first for Google's 'rat image' search query (retrieved 16 Mar 2013). (rat Google search)

Alex's Public Appearances

Alex is neither without modesty nor public fame. Her first cover-ratgirl appearance was on the April 2004 issue of Genome Research.

Rat Issue of Genome Research, April 2004 / Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Alex the rat appeared on the cover of Genome Research (April 2004). (zoom)

More recently, she's appeared on the cover of Ethnologie Francaise (Jan-Mar 2009 issue).

Alex the rat on the cover of Ethnologie Francaise (1/2009) / Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Alex the rat appeared on the cover of Ethnologie Francaise (1/2009). (zoom)

The topic of the issue was the relationship between animals and humans. It is fitting therefore to recount here the relationship I shared with Alex during her sojourn with us.

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news + thoughts

Using Circos in Galaxy Australia Workshop

Thu 20-02-2020

A workshop in using the Circos Galaxy wrapper by Rasche and Hiltemann. Event organized by Australian Biocommons.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Using Circos in Galaxy Australia workshop. (zoom)

Download workshop slides.

Galaxy wrapper training materials, Saskia Hiltemann, Helena Rasche, 2020 Visualisation with Circos (Galaxy Training Materials).

Essence of Data Visualization in Bioinformatics Webinar

Thu 20-02-2020

My webinar on fundamental concepts in data visualization and visual communication of scientific data and concepts. Event organized by Australian Biocommons.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Essence of Data Visualization in Bioinformatics webinar. (zoom)

Download webinar slides.

Markov models — training and evaluation of hidden Markov models

Thu 20-02-2020

With one eye you are looking at the outside world, while with the other you are looking within yourself.
—Amedeo Modigliani

Following up with our Markov Chain column and Hidden Markov model column, this month we look at how Markov models are trained using the example of biased coin.

We introduce the concepts of forward and backward probabilities and explicitly show how they are calculated in the training process using the Baum-Welch algorithm. We also discuss the value of ensemble models and the use of pseudocounts for cases where rare observations are expected but not necessarily seen.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Nature Methods Points of Significance column: Markov models — training and evaluation of hidden Markov models. (read)

Grewal, J., Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2019) Points of significance: Markov models — training and evaluation of hidden Markov models. Nature Methods 17:121–122.

Background reading

Altman, N. & Krzywinski, M. (2019) Points of significance: Hidden Markov models. Nature Methods 16:795–796.

Altman, N. & Krzywinski, M. (2019) Points of significance: Markov Chains. Nature Methods 16:663–664.