Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Bioinformatics and BioMed Central.

Open Access Highly Accessed Software

Coral: an integrated suite of visualizations for comparing clusterings

Darya Filippova1*, Aashish Gadani3 and Carl Kingsford12

Author Affiliations

1 Lane Center for Computational Biology, School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA

2 Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA

3 Department of Computer Science, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Bioinformatics 2012, 13:276  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-13-276

Published: 29 October 2012



Clustering has become a standard analysis for many types of biological data (e.g interaction networks, gene expression, metagenomic abundance). In practice, it is possible to obtain a large number of contradictory clusterings by varying which clustering algorithm is used, which data attributes are considered, how algorithmic parameters are set, and which near-optimal clusterings are chosen. It is a difficult task to sift though such a large collection of varied clusterings to determine which clustering features are affected by parameter settings or are artifacts of particular algorithms and which represent meaningful patterns. Knowing which items are often clustered together helps to improve our understanding of the underlying data and to increase our confidence about generated modules.


We present Coral, an application for interactive exploration of large ensembles of clusterings. Coral makes all-to-all clustering comparison easy, supports exploration of individual clusterings, allows tracking modules across clusterings, and supports identification of core and peripheral items in modules. We discuss how each visual component in Coral tackles a specific question related to clustering comparison and provide examples of their use. We also show how Coral could be used to visually and quantitatively compare clusterings with a ground truth clustering.


As a case study, we compare clusterings of a recently published protein interaction network of Arabidopsis thaliana. We use several popular algorithms to generate the network’s clusterings. We find that the clusterings vary significantly and that few proteins are consistently co-clustered in all clusterings. This is evidence that several clusterings should typically be considered when evaluating modules of genes, proteins, or sequences, and Coral can be used to perform a comprehensive analysis of these clustering ensembles.