Category: biographics

Announcing scribl-rails

PfEMP1 domains drawn with scribl

Sometimes back I had mentioned about scribl javascript framework for drawing bioinformatics glyphs on HTML5 canvas. If you are a Rails developer you will be happy to know that I have written  scribl-rails, an asset helper for including scribl in your application asset pipeline.


Add the following to your gemfile:

gem 'scribl-rails' 

ran bundle install from the application directory

Add the following directive to your Javascript manifest file (application.js):

//= require scribl 

Enjoy using scribl-rails and creating cute bio-graphics! Many thanks to Chase Miller for the awesome library!

For more information and development check out the scribl-rails at github


Use Scribl to draw genomic glyphs on HTML5 canvas

The Scribl library by Chase Miller is an awesome and a promising Javascript library for visualizing biological sequence information and rendering it on the web. Scribl  generates biological charts of genomic regions, alignments, and assembly data. The library is under continuous development and I have been able to use it for some internal projects!

A very nice list of examples and introduction is available at the home page and the wiki provides an elaborate user guide!

Happy biology!

Bio-graphics, BioSQL and Rails part 2

In  part 1 of this series we created a rails application and connected it to a BioSQL database. We also overwrote the rails convections to accommodate our legacy schema.

To understand the BioSQL schema, please review the documentation here. A brief overview of is as follows. Every record we enter into our database is a ‘bioentry’ and goes to the bioenty table. A bioentry can be composed of the following entities: the record’s public name, public accession and version, its description and an identifier field.

The actual sequence data is stored in the biosequence table which contains raw sequence information associated with a bioentry, and alphabet information (‘protein’, ‘dna’, ‘rna’). This is because not all records in our database need to be associated with a raw sequence. Additional sequence information is stored in the seqfeature table together with other qualifiers.

The location of each seqfeature (or sub-seqfeature) is defined by a location entity, describing the stop and start coordinates and strand. This information is stored in the location table.

In our rails application we are going to create some models and a few controllers. In RESTful language, we are actually creating resources. In this example we will be very simplistic and just create a biodatabase, taxon, bioentry, biosequence, seqfeature, location resources. We will also create associations between them in their model classes. But before that delete the index.html file from your rails application public folder and add the following line to your configurations/routes.rb file

 map.root :controller => "biosequences"

To quickly create the models, controllers, associated views and a test suite for each of our resources, just run the rails generate scaffold command, passing the name of the model as an argument. For example,

generate scaffold Bioentry

will create a bioentry model, a bioentries_controller, associated views (index,show,edit and new), a migration file, though in our case we do not need it. When you finish scaffolding, the routes.rb file should have the following resources declared.

  map.resources :seqfeatures
  map.resources :locations
  map.resources :bioentries
  map.resources :biosequences
  map.resources :taxon
  map.resources :biodatabases

Let us create some mandatory associations for the models.

Edit the /models/biodatabase.rb file by adding the following

 has_many :bioentries #a biodatabase is associated with many bioentries
 validates_uniqueness_of :name  #The name foe each biodatabase is unique!

Edit the /models/bioentry.rb file by adding the following

    belongs_to :biodatabase
    belongs_to :taxon
    has_one :biosequence

Edit the /models/taxon.rb and add

   has_one :bioentry

Edit the /models/biosequence.rb file by adding:

  set_primary_key :bioentry_id #biosequence uses bioentry_id as a primary key!
  belongs_to :bioentry

edit the /models/location.rb file by adding:

 belongs_to :seqfeature

Edit the /models/seqfeature.rb file by adding:

  belongs_to :bioentry
  has_many :locations

Note that most likely you will be adding huge files to the database. BioSQL comes with a set of  perl scripts to enable you do that. Until bioruby 1.3 is released you will have to use the perl scripts to add huge datasets. All the documentation to do that is available from the BioSQL website. I used a perl script to load taxon data to my database. This script comes with the BioSQL. (It did not seem to work on my system, I will sort that later)

To make this post shorter and get to the meat of it, i will assume that you have some existing data in your biosql database. If not, create some dummy data to populate, the biodatabase, bioentry,biosequence, seqfeature and location tables. In Part 3, I will show you how to create the necessary views to populate the database. After all biologists don’t want to interact with raw SQL queries and sometimes have no idea of running scripts, however they are very web savy!

Edit the /biosequences/show.html.erb to look as follows:

<h2><%=>(<%= @biosequence.alphabet %>)</h2>
<%= @biosequence.seq %><br/>

<%= link_to 'Edit', edit_biosequence_path(@biosequence) %> 

Now navigate to http://localhost:3000/biosequences/1

and then navigate to http://locahost:3000/biosequences/1.xml The XML version of your sequence is also available!

Lets add some ability to render graphics for the sequences.

Add the following lines at the top of the biosequence.rb model file

 require 'stringio'
 require 'base64' 

In the biosequence.rb model class, create a new method called draw_graphic.

def self.draw_graphic(value)
      #get the name and length of the main feature to be drawn
     main_feature = Bioentry.find(value)
     len = main_feature.biosequence.length.to_i
     name =

    #create a Biographics panel and add a track
      @my_panel =,:width=> 900)
      @track = @my_panel.add_track("#{name}",:glyph=>'directed_generic')

     #specify the range for the main feature
     main_feature_range = "1..#{len}"
      @track.add_feature("#{name}",main_feature_range), :label=>" ")

    #write the output to memory
        output =
        return output.string

This method will be called by an action method in biosequence_controller.rb file.

  def to_image
      image = Biosequence.draw_graphic(Biosequence.find(params[:id]))
      send_data(image, :filename => "graphic.svg", :disposition => "inline")
    rescue  ActiveRecord::RecordNotFound
      add_error("Error:Attempt to call image without specifying a biosequence  ID")
      redirect_to :action=>'index'

We add a rescue block to capture record not found errors. In RESTful applications a controller is limited to seven actions. So we need to add a collection to our biosequence resource in routes.rb. This is how we do it.

  map.resources :biosequences,:collection=>{:to_image=>:get}

Now we need to modify our /biosequences/show.html.erb file, to enable rendering of the graphic. For that we will create a helper method so that our show.html.erb view is ‘clean’. In helpers/biosequences_helper.rb file, add the following code

  def render_image(feature_obj)

And in the /views/biosequences/show.html.erb file add the following line of code

<%= render_image(@biosequence) %><br/>

Now assuming  that you have a biosql database with valid data, navigate to




The above is a screen shot from my example application while I was writing this tutorial.

The source code for this example  application is available from github

For a full review of the methods available for biographics please check the project’s git repository and the rdoc.

Bio-graphics, BioSQL and Rails part 1

In these series I will show you how to quickly add graphics support to a bioinformatics database rails application. We are going to use the biographics library by Jan Aerts, the BioSQL database schema, and rails 2.2.2 (also works with 2.3.2)  In this simple example we want to represent a sequence as a graphic, such that we can view it in a web browser more or less the way Gbrowse works. Each main feature has different subfeatures at different locations along it.

——————————————————————- main feature

——- ——– ———— ——– ——    subfeatures

We need to have the following installed, rails 2.1.1, bio 2.1, biographics 1.4 all available as gems and a database based on BioSQL schema.

We need to download the BioSQL schema located here. The latest version as of this writing is BioSQL v1.0 (code-named Tokyo) release, v1.0.1. Create a database called biosql_development. I am on Ubuntu Linux with Mysql 5.0.

george:>mysql -u george -p
:enter password
Welcome to the MySQL monitor.  Commands end with ; or \g.
Your MySQL connection id is 27
Server version: 5.0.51a-3ubuntu5.4 (Ubuntu)

Type 'help;' or '\h' for help. Type '\c' to clear the buffer.

mysql> create database biosql_development;
Query OK, 1 row affected (0.02 sec)


I have created a database called biosql_development. Why am i not using migrations? The reason is that BioSQL has some agreed standards on table names and schema convection which are not compatible with rails database creation and table naming conventions. However Rails allows us to override these default convections, when working with legacy databases, as will be our case.

After creating the database, load the BioSQL schema to the empty database. First we need to tell mysql which database to use.

mysql> use biosql_development;

then load the schema

mysql> source /home/george/Desktop/downloadsfolder/biosql-1.0.1/sql/biosqldb-mysql.sql;
Query OK, 0 rows affected, 1 warning (0.48 sec)

Query OK, 0 rows affected (0.15 sec)
Records: 0  Duplicates: 0  Warnings: 0

Query OK, 0 rows affected, 1 warning (0.01 sec)

Query OK, 0 rows affected (0.03 sec)
Records: 0  Duplicates: 0  Warnings: 0

Query OK, 0 rows affected, 1 warning (0.01 sec)

 ........ trucated

Now we need to create a rails application and connect to this database.

I use the Netbeans IDE development environment for creating ruby and rails applications. Go ahead and create a rails application and specify to use mysql as the database adapter.

To connect to our legacy database, we need to override some convections. First disable table plurulization, and tell rails that the table primary name is named as tablename_id as opposed to just the id column expected by rails. To do that

Create a new file in your application configurations/initializers directory called override_rails.rb (you can call it whatever).

 class ActiveRecord::Base
  self.pluralize_table_names = false

  self.primary_key_prefix_type = :table_name_with_underscore

The two lines above tells ActiveRecord not to expect the table names to be plural and that the primary key for each table is named as tablename_id format.

Also create another one called external_libraries.rb in the initializers directory, as you can tell this is where I want to put my require statements for loading external libraries.

require 'rubygems'

#load the bioinformatics library
require 'bio'

#load the biographics library
require 'bio-graphics'

#load the sql views extension library
gem 'rails_sql_views'
require 'rails_sql_views'

This file loads our gems. The rails_sql_views gem allows us to create views and access them by creating models corresponding to the views.

At this point if you run rake db:schema:dump, we will have a rails based BioSQL schema and which we can conveniently use to create a BioSQL database on any Relational database that rails supports and this includes Microsoft SQL server, DB2, Oracle, SQLlite and a host of others. All that would be required is to change the database.yml file to suit the adapter of choice and then execute rake db:schema:load to load the BioSQL schema.

Please note that if your are using rails 2.2.2,  you may want to comment the lines

unless Kernel.respond_to?(:gem)
  Kernel.send :alias_method, :gem, :require_gem

in rails_sql_views(0.6.1), otherwise running db:schema:dump will cause rake to abort.

In the next part I will describe how to create the necessary resources for our RESTful(Representational State Transfer) bioinformatics web application and rendering of the graphics.