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Archive for the tag “hadoop”

What can “big data” (read “Hadoop”) do for genomics?

Prompted by the recent news that Cloudera and Mount Sinai School of Medicine will collaborate to “solve medical challenges using big data” (more specifically, Cloudera’s Jeff Hammerbacher, ex-big data guru at Facebook, will collaborate with the equally trailblazing mathematician/biologist Eric Schadt at Mount Sinai’s Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology) and that NextBio will collaborate with Intel to “optimize the Hadoop stack and advance big data technologies in medicine”, I would like to offer some random thoughts on possible use cases.

Note that “big data” essentially means “Hadoop” in the above press releases, and that the “medicine” they mention should be understood as “genomic medicine” or just “genomics”. Since I happen to know a thing or two about genomics, I will limit myself to (parts of) genomics and Hadoop/MapReduce in this post. For a good overview of big data and medicine in a broader sense than I can describe here, check out this rather nice GigaOm article.

Existing Hadoop/MapReduce stuff for NGS

In the world of high-throughput, or next-generation sequencing (NGS), which is rapidly becoming more and more indispensable for genomics, there are a few Hadoop-based frameworks that I am aware of and that should probably be mentioned first. Packages like Cloudburst and Crossbow leverage Hadoop to perform “read mapping” (approximate string matching for taking a DNA sequence from the sequencer and figuring out where in a known genome it came from), Myrna and Eoulsan do the same but also extend the workflow to quantifying gene expression and identifying differentially expressed genes based on the sequences, and Contrail does Hadoop-based de novo assembly (piecing together a new genome from sequences without previous knowledge, like an extremely difficult jigsaw puzzle). These are essentially MapReduce implementations of existing software, which is all good and fine, but I haven’t seen these tools being used much so far. Perhaps one reason is that read mapping is usually not a major bottleneck compared to some other steps, and with recently released software such as SeqAlto and SNAP (thx Tom Dyar) (and another package that I’m sure I read about the other day but can’t seem find right now) promising a further 10x-100x speed increase compared to existing tools, there is just not a pressing need at the moment. Contrail, the de novo assembler,  does offer an opportunity for research groups who don’t have access to a very RAM-rich computers (de novo assembly is notoriously memory hungry, with 512 Gb RAM machines often being strained to the limit on certain data sets) to perform assembly on commodity clusters.

Then there are the projects that attempt to build a Hadoop infrastructure for next-generation sequencing, like Seal, which provides “map-reducification” for a number of common NGS operations, or Hadoop-BAM (a library for processing BAM files, a common sequence alignment format, in Hadoop) and SeqPig (a library with import and export functions to allow common bioinformatics formats to be used in Pig).

What Hadoop could be useful for

I’m sure people smarter than me will come up with many different use cases for Hadoop in genomics and medicine. At this point, however, I would suggest these general themes:

  • Statistical associations between various kinds of data vectors – clinical, environmental, molecular, microbial... This is more or less a batch-processing problem and thus suited to Hadoop. NextBio (the company mentioned in the beginning, who are teaming up with Intel) are doing this as a core part of their business; computing correlations between gene expression levels in different tissues, diseases and conditions and clinical information, drug data etc. However, this concept could (and should) be extended to other things like environmental information, lifestyle factors, genetic variants (SNV, structural variations, copy number variations etc.), epigenetic data (chromatic structure, DNA methylation, histone modifications …), personal microbiomes (the gut microbiota in each patient etc.) Of course, collecting and compiling the data to perform these correlations will be hard; a much harder “big data” problem than computing the actual correlations.  SolveBio is a new company that seems to want to understand cancer by compiling vast quantities of data in such a way. This is how they put it in an interview (titled, ambitiously, “The Cloud Will Cure Cancer“): “Patients can measure every feature, as the technology becomes cheaper: genome sequence, gene expression in every accessible tissue, chromatin state, small molecules and metabolites, indigenous microbes, pathogens, etc. These data pools can be created by anyone who has the consent of the patients: universities, hospitals, or companies. The resulting networks, the “data tornado”, will be huge. This will be a huge amount of data and a huge opportunity to use statistical learning for medicine.” In fact, a third recently announced bigdata/genomics collaboration, between Google and the Institute for Systems Biology (ISB), has already started to explore what this type of tools could look like in their Cancer Regulome Explorer. ISB has used the Google Compute Engine to scale a random forest algorithm to 600,000 cores across Google’s global data centers in order to “explore associations between DNA, RNA, epigenetic, and clinical cancer data.” See this case study for some more details (not many more to be honest.)
  • Metagenomics. This means, according to one definition, “the application of modern genomics techniques to the study of communities of microbial organisms directly in their natural environments, bypassing the need for isolation and lab cultivation of individual species.(There is really nothing “meta” about it, it’s just that you are looking at many species at once, which is why it is also called environmental genomics or community genomics in some cases.) For example, Craig Venter’s project to sequence as many living things as possible in the Sargasso sea is metagenomics, as is sequencing samples from the human gut, snot etc. in search of novel bacteria, viruses and fungi (or just characterizing the variety of known ones.) It’s a fascinating field; for an easy introduction, see the TED Talk called “What’s left to explore?” by Nathan Wolfe. Analyzing sequences from metagenomics projects is of course much more difficult than usual, because you are randomly sampling sequences for which you don’t know the source organism but have to infer it in some way. This calls for smart use of proper data structures for indexing and querying, and as much parallelization as possible, very likely in some Hadoopy kind of way. C Titus Brown has written a lot of interesting stuff about the metagenomics data deluge on his blog, Living in an Ivory Basement, where he has explored esoteric and useful things such as probabilistic de Bruijn graphs. Lately, compressive genomics – algorithms that compute directly on compressed genomic data – has become something of a buzz phrase (although similar ideas have been used for quite some time). Some combination of all of these approaches will be needed to combat the inevitable information overload.

Beyond batch processing

In my mind, Hadoop has been associated with batch processing, but today I heard that the newest version of Hadoop not only includes a completely overhauled version of MapReduce called YARN, but it will even allow using other kinds of frameworks, such as streaming real-time analytics frameworks, to operate on the data stored in HDFS. I’ve been thinking about possible applications of stream analytics in next-generation sequencing. Surprisingly, there is already software for streaming quantification of sequences, eXpress – these guys are surely ahead of their time. The immediate use case I can think of is for the USB-stick-sized MinION nanopore sequencer, which reportedly will produce output in a real-time manner (which no sequencers do today as far as I know) so that you can start your analysis while the sequencer is still running. If the vision about “genomic observatories” to “take the planet’s biological pulse” comes true, I’m sure there will be plenty of work to do for the stream analytics clusters of the world …

This has been a rambling post that will probably need a few updates in the coming days – congratulations and thanks if you made it to the end!

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A good week for (big) data (science)

Perhaps as a subconscious compensation for my failure to attend Strata 2012 last week (I did watch some of the videos and study the downloads from the “Two Most Important Algorithms in Predictive Modeling Today” session), I devoted this week to more big-data/data-science things than usual.

Monday to Wednesday were spent at a Hadoop and NGS (Next Generation [DNA] Sequencing) data processing hackathon hosted by CSC in Espoo, Finland. All of the participants were very nice and accomplished; I’ll just single out two people for having developed high-throughput DNA sequencing related Hadoop software: Matti Niemenmaa, who is the main developer of Hadoop-BAM, a library for manipulating aligned sequence data in the cloud, and Luca Pireddu, who is the main developer of Seal, which is a nice Hadoop toolkit for sequencing data which enables running several different types of tasks in distributed fashion. Other things we looked at was the CloudBioLinux project, map/reduce sequence assembly using Contrail and CSC’s biological high-throughput data analysis platform Chipster.

On Friday, me and blog co-author Joel went to record our first episode of the upcoming Follow the Data podcast series with Fredrik Olsson and Magnus Sahlgren from Gavagai. In the podcast series, we will try to interview mainly Swedish but also other companies that we feel are big data or analytics related in an interesting way. Today I have been listening to the first edit and feel relatively happy with it, even though it is quite rough, owing to our lack of experience. I also hate to hear my own recorded voice, especially in English … I am working on one or two blog posts to summarize the highlights of the podcast (which is in English) and the following discussion in Swedish.

Over the course of the week, I’ve also worked in the evenings and on planes to finish an assignment for an academic R course I am helping out with. I decided to experiment a bit with this assignment and to base it on a Kaggle challenge. The students will download data from Kaggle and get instructions that can be regarded as a sort of “prediction contests 101”, discussing the practical details of getting your data into shape, evaluating your models, figuring out which variables are most important and so on. It’s been fun and can serve as a checklist for my self in the future.

Stay tuned for the first episode of Follow the Data podcast!

Mining data streams, the web, and the climate

I recently came across MOA (Massive Online Analysis), an environment for what its developers call massive data mining, or data stream mining. This New Zealand-based project is related to Weka, a Java-based framework for machine learning which I’ve used quite a bit over the years. Data stream mining differs from plain old data mining in that the data is assumed to arrive quickly and continuously, as in a stream, and in an unpredictable order. Therefore the full data set will typically be many times larger than your computer’s memory (which already rules out some commonly used algorithms), and each example can only be briefly examined once, after which it is discarded. Therefore the statistical model has to be updated incrementally, and often must be ready to be applied at any point between training examples.

I also came across a press release describing version 2.0 of KnowledgeMiner for Excel, a data mining software apparently used by customers like Pfizer, NASA and Boeing, and which is based on GMDH (Group Method of Data Handling), a paradigm I hadn’t heard about before. I failed to install KnowledgeMiner for Excel for my Mac due to some obscure install error, but from what I gather, the GMDH framework involves a kind of automatic model selection, making it easier to use for non-experts in data mining. (Of course I haven’t tried it, so it’s hard to evaluate the claim.) The example data set provided with the software package has to do with climate data and modeling, so it should be fun to try as soon as I get it working:

The new KnowledgeMiner is now capable of high-dimensional modeling and prediction of climate and has an included example using air and sea surface temperature data. This is a first for a data-mining software package: to offer anyone the ability to see for themselves that global temperatures are rising steadily, using publicly available data. The biggest surprise is seeing that the changes are greatest and accelerating in the northern latitudes. By using data from the past, KnowledgeMiner (yX) can show predictions for future years. Go to this link to see the climate change data displayed graphically in a slideshow through the year 2020:

There’s also an interesting new toolkit for web mining from BixoLabs. They’ve built what they call an elastic web mining platform in Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (on top of Hadoop, Cascading and a web mining framework called Bixo, for those of you who care). The whole thing is pre-configured and scalable, and from the tutorials on the site, it seems pretty easy to set it up to crawl the web to your heart’s content.

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