Open Access Highly Accessed Software

BIOCAT: a pattern recognition platform for customizable biological image classification and annotation

Jie Zhou1*, Santosh Lamichhane1, Gabriella Sterne2, Bing Ye2 and Hanchuan Peng3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Computer Science, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL 60115, USA

2 Life Sciences Institute and Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA

3 Allen Institute for Brain Science, Seattle, WA 98103, USA

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BMC Bioinformatics 2013, 14:291  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-14-291

Published: 4 October 2013



Pattern recognition algorithms are useful in bioimage informatics applications such as quantifying cellular and subcellular objects, annotating gene expressions, and classifying phenotypes. To provide effective and efficient image classification and annotation for the ever-increasing microscopic images, it is desirable to have tools that can combine and compare various algorithms, and build customizable solution for different biological problems. However, current tools often offer a limited solution in generating user-friendly and extensible tools for annotating higher dimensional images that correspond to multiple complicated categories.


We develop the BIOimage Classification and Annotation Tool (BIOCAT). It is able to apply pattern recognition algorithms to two- and three-dimensional biological image sets as well as regions of interest (ROIs) in individual images for automatic classification and annotation. We also propose a 3D anisotropic wavelet feature extractor for extracting textural features from 3D images with xy-z resolution disparity. The extractor is one of the about 20 built-in algorithms of feature extractors, selectors and classifiers in BIOCAT. The algorithms are modularized so that they can be “chained” in a customizable way to form adaptive solution for various problems, and the plugin-based extensibility gives the tool an open architecture to incorporate future algorithms. We have applied BIOCAT to classification and annotation of images and ROIs of different properties with applications in cell biology and neuroscience.


BIOCAT provides a user-friendly, portable platform for pattern recognition based biological image classification of two- and three- dimensional images and ROIs. We show, via diverse case studies, that different algorithms and their combinations have different suitability for various problems. The customizability of BIOCAT is thus expected to be useful for providing effective and efficient solutions for a variety of biological problems involving image classification and annotation. We also demonstrate the effectiveness of 3D anisotropic wavelet in classifying both 3D image sets and ROIs.