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This article is part of the supplement: Highlights of the 1st IEEE Symposium on Biological Data Visualization (BioVis 2011)

Open Access Open Badges Research

VIPER: a visualisation tool for exploring inheritance inconsistencies in genotyped pedigrees

Trevor Paterson1*, Martin Graham2, Jessie Kennedy2 and Andy Law1

Author affiliations

1 The Roslin Institute, Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, University of Edinburgh, Easter Bush, Midlothian, EH25 9RG, Scotland, UK

2 Institute for Informatics & Digital Innovation, Edinburgh Napier University, Colinton Road, Edinburgh, EH10 5DT, Scotland, UK

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Citation and License

BMC Bioinformatics 2012, 13(Suppl 8):S5  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-13-S8-S5

Published: 18 May 2012



Pedigree genotype datasets are used for analysing genetic inheritance and to map genetic markers and traits. Such datasets consist of hundreds of related animals genotyped for thousands of genetic markers and invariably contain multiple errors in both the pedigree structure and in the associated individual genotype data. These errors manifest as apparent inheritance inconsistencies in the pedigree, and invalidate analyses of marker inheritance patterns across the dataset. Cleaning raw datasets of bad data points (incorrect pedigree relationships, unreliable marker assays, suspect samples, bad genotype results etc.) requires expert exploration of the patterns of exposed inconsistencies in the context of the inheritance pedigree. In order to assist this process we are developing VIPER (Visual Pedigree Explorer), a software tool that integrates an inheritance-checking algorithm with a novel space-efficient pedigree visualisation, so that reported inheritance inconsistencies are overlaid on an interactive, navigable representation of the pedigree structure.

Methods and results

This paper describes an evaluation of how VIPER displays the different scales and types of dataset that occur experimentally, with a description of how VIPER's display interface and functionality meet the challenges presented by such data. We examine a range of possible error types found in real and simulated pedigree genotype datasets, demonstrating how these errors are exposed and explored using the VIPER interface and we evaluate the utility and usability of the interface to the domain expert.

Evaluation was performed as a two stage process with the assistance of domain experts (geneticists). The initial evaluation drove the iterative implementation of further features in the software prototype, as required by the users, prior to a final functional evaluation of the pedigree display for exploring the various error types, data scales and structures.


The VIPER display was shown to effectively expose the range of errors found in experimental genotyped pedigrees, allowing users to explore the underlying causes of reported inheritance inconsistencies. This interface will provide the basis for a full data cleaning tool that will allow the user to remove isolated bad data points, and reversibly test the effect of removing suspect genotypes and pedigree relationships.