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Open Access Highly Accessed Software

BIRCH: A user-oriented, locally-customizable, bioinformatics system

Brian Fristensky

Author Affiliations

Department of Plant Science, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, R3T 2N2, CANADA

BMC Bioinformatics 2007, 8:54  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-8-54

Published: 9 February 2007

Abstract

Background

Molecular biologists need sophisticated analytical tools which often demand extensive computational resources. While finding, installing, and using these tools can be challenging, pipelining data from one program to the next is particularly awkward, especially when using web-based programs. At the same time, system administrators tasked with maintaining these tools do not always appreciate the needs of research biologists.

Results

BIRCH (Biological Research Computing Hierarchy) is an organizational framework for delivering bioinformatics resources to a user group, scaling from a single lab to a large institution. The BIRCH core distribution includes many popular bioinformatics programs, unified within the GDE (Genetic Data Environment) graphic interface. Of equal importance, BIRCH provides the system administrator with tools that simplify the job of managing a multiuser bioinformatics system across different platforms and operating systems. These include tools for integrating locally-installed programs and databases into BIRCH, and for customizing the local BIRCH system to meet the needs of the user base. BIRCH can also act as a front end to provide a unified view of already-existing collections of bioinformatics software.

Documentation for the BIRCH and locally-added programs is merged in a hierarchical set of web pages. In addition to manual pages for individual programs, BIRCH tutorials employ step by step examples, with screen shots and sample files, to illustrate both the important theoretical and practical considerations behind complex analytical tasks.

Conclusion

BIRCH provides a versatile organizational framework for managing software and databases, and making these accessible to a user base. Because of its network-centric design, BIRCH makes it possible for any user to do any task from anywhere.