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

Open Access Open Badges Research

An eQTL biological data visualization challenge and approaches from the visualization community

Christopher W Bartlett1*, Soo Yeon Cheong1, Liping Hou1, Jesse Paquette2, Pek Yee Lum2, Günter Jäger3, Florian Battke3, Corinna Vehlow4, Julian Heinrich4, Kay Nieselt3, Ryo Sakai5, Jan Aerts5 and William C Ray16*

Author Affiliations

1 The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital, Columbus OH, USA

2 Ayasdi Inc. Palo Alto CA, USA

3 Center for Bioinformatics Tübingen, University of Tübingen, Germany

4 VISUS, University of Stuttgart, Stuttgart, Germany

5 ESAT-SCD/IBBT-KU Leuven Future Health Department, Leuven University, Leuven, Belgium

6 The Ohio State University Biophysics Program, Columbus OH, USA

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

Published: 18 May 2012


In 2011, the IEEE VisWeek conferences inaugurated a symposium on Biological Data Visualization. Like other domain-oriented Vis symposia, this symposium's purpose was to explore the unique characteristics and requirements of visualization within the domain, and to enhance both the Visualization and Bio/Life-Sciences communities by pushing Biological data sets and domain understanding into the Visualization community, and well-informed Visualization solutions back to the Biological community. Amongst several other activities, the BioVis symposium created a data analysis and visualization contest. Unlike many contests in other venues, where the purpose is primarily to allow entrants to demonstrate tour-de-force programming skills on sample problems with known solutions, the BioVis contest was intended to whet the participants' appetites for a tremendously challenging biological domain, and simultaneously produce viable tools for a biological grand challenge domain with no extant solutions. For this purpose expression Quantitative Trait Locus (eQTL) data analysis was selected. In the BioVis 2011 contest, we provided contestants with a synthetic eQTL data set containing real biological variation, as well as a spiked-in gene expression interaction network influenced by single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) DNA variation and a hypothetical disease model. Contestants were asked to elucidate the pattern of SNPs and interactions that predicted an individual's disease state. 9 teams competed in the contest using a mixture of methods, some analytical and others through visual exploratory methods. Independent panels of visualization and biological experts judged entries. Awards were given for each panel's favorite entry, and an overall best entry agreed upon by both panels. Three special mention awards were given for particularly innovative and useful aspects of those entries. And further recognition was given to entries that correctly answered a bonus question about how a proposed "gene therapy" change to a SNP might change an individual's disease status, which served as a calibration for each approaches' applicability to a typical domain question. In the future, BioVis will continue the data analysis and visualization contest, maintaining the philosophy of providing new challenging questions in open-ended and dramatically underserved Bio/Life Sciences domains.