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fingerprint 3.5.2 released

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Comparison of nested loop performance in R and C for Tanimoto similarity matrix calculation.

Comparison of nested loop performance in R and C for Tanimoto similarity matrix calculation.

Version 3.5.2 of the fingerprint package has been pushed to CRAN. This update includes a contribution from Abhik Seal that significantly speeds up similarity matrix calculations using the Tanimoto metric.

His patch led to a 10-fold improvement in running time. However his code involved the use of nested for loops in R. This is a well known bottleneck and most idiomatic R code replaces for loops with a member of the sapply/lapply/tapply family. In this case however, it was easier to write a small piece of C code to perform the loops, resulting in a 4- to 6-fold improvement over Abhiks observed running times (see figure summarizing Tanimoto similarity matrix calculation for 1024 bit fingerprints, with 256 bits randomly selected to be 1). As always, the latest code is available on Github.

Written by Rajarshi Guha

October 27th, 2013 at 10:44 pm

Posted in cheminformatics,software

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Updated version of rcdk (3.2.3)

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I’ve pushed updates to the rcdklibs and rcdk packages that support cheminformatics in R using the CDK. The new versions employ the latest CDK master, which as Egon pointed out  has significantly fewer bugs, and thanks to Jon, improved performance. New additions to the package include support for the LINGO and Signature fingerprinters (you’ll need the latest version of fingerprint).

Written by Rajarshi Guha

October 6th, 2013 at 11:17 pm

Posted in cheminformatics,software

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Support for feature,count fingerprints in fingerprint 3.5.0

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I’ve just updated the fingerprint package to v3.5.0 (should show up on CRAN shortly, or else you can get it directly from my Github repository). The main update in this version is better support for feature,count type fingerprints. An example would be ECFP or signature fingerprints. In these types of fingerprints, the output is usually a set of (integer or long) hash values or else structural fragments along with their count of occurrences.

The updated package now provides an S4 class to represent features and their counts. An example of this class is

f1 <- new("feature",

The package provides getters and setters for these objects, allow you to get or set the feature and the count.

> feature(f1)
[1] "[C]([N]([C]([N]([C][C,1](=[O]))=[O])[C](=[C]([C,1][N]([C,0]))[N](=[C,0]))))"
> count(f1)
[1] 2
> feature(f1) <- 'ABCD'
> count(f1) <- 12
> f1

Using this class, feature,count fingerprints are now represented as objects of class featvec. For these fingerprints, instead of bits, one obtains a list of feature objects. For fingerprints read from files that provide the hashed version of the underlying structure (or neighborhood etc), the numeric hashes are read in as features, with a default count of 1. The distance method has also been updated to evaluate similarities for feature,count fingerprints, though currently it does not use the count in the similarity calculation.

As an example, consider a set of ECFP’s available from here

> fps <-'', lf=ecfp.lf, binary=FALSE)
> fps[[1]]
Feature fingerprint
 name =  mol01
 source =  ecfp.lf
 features =  17:1 0:1 16:1 3:1 1:1 1747237384:1 1499521844:1 -1539132615:1 1294255210:1 332760439:1 -1549163031:1 1035613116:1 1618154665:1 590925877:1 1872154524:1 -1143715940:1 203677720:1 -1272768868:1 136120670:1 136597326:1 -1460348762:1 -1262922302:1 -1201618245:1 -402549409:1 -1270820019:1 929601590:1 -1597477966:1 -1274743746:1 -1155471474:1 1258428229:1 -1838187238:1 -798628285:1 -1773728142:1 -773983804:1 -453677277:1 1674451008:1 65948508:1 991735244:1 -1412946825:1 846704869:1 -2103621484:1 -886204842:1 1725648567:1 -353343892:1 -585443181:1 -533273616:1 2031084733:1 -801248129:1 1752802620:1 -976015189:1 -992213424:1 2109043264:1 -790336137:1 630139722:1 -505031736:1 -1427697183:1 -2090462286:1 -1724769936:1
> distance(fps[[1]], fps[[1]])
[1] 1
> distance(fps[[1]], fps[[2]])
[1] 0.1566265

Written by Rajarshi Guha

October 6th, 2013 at 5:21 pm

Predictive models – Implementation vs Specification

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Benjamin Good recently asked about the existence of public repositories of predictive molecular signatures. From his description, he’s looking for platforms that are capable of deploying predictive models. The need for something like this is certainly not restricted to genomics – the QSAR field has been in need for this for many years. A few years back I described a system to deploy R models and more recently the OCHEM platform attempts to address this. Pipelining tools usually have a web deployment mode that also supports this idea. One problem faced by such platforms in the cheminformatics area is that the deployed model must include the means to evaluate the input features (a.k.a., descriptors). Depending on the licenses associated with descriptor software such a bundle may not be easily deployed. A gene-based predictor obviously doesn’t suffer from this problem, so it should be easier to implement. Benjamin points out the Synapse platform which looks quite nice, but only supports R models (not necessarily a bad thing!). A very recent candidate for generic predictive model (amongst other things) deployment is via plugins for the BARD platform.

But in my mind, the deeper issue that should be addressed is that of model specification. With a robust specification, evaluation of the model could implemented in arbitrary languages and platforms – essentially decoupling model definition and model implementation. PMML is one approach to predictive model specifications and is quite general (and a good solution for the gene predictor models that Benjamin is interested in). A field-specific example would be QSAR-ML (also see here) for QSAR models. One could then imagine repositories of model specifications, with an ecosystem of tools and services that instantiate models from these specs.

Written by Rajarshi Guha

May 1st, 2013 at 12:29 am

Notes & thoughts from the IU semantics workshop

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Over the last two days I attended a workshop titled Exploiting Big Data Semantics for Translational Medicine, held at Indiana University, organized by David Wild, Ying Ding, Katy Borner and Eric Gifford. The stated goals were to explore advances in translation medicine via data and semantic technologies, with a view towards possible fundable ideas and funding opportunites. A nicely arranged workshop that was pretty intense – minimal breaks, constant thinking – which is a good use of 2 days. As you can see from the workshop website, the attendees brought a variety of skills and outlooks to the meeting. For me this was one of the most attractive features of the workshop.

This post is a rough dump of some observations & thoughts during the workshop – I’m sure I’ve left out important comments, provide minimal attribution and I assume there will be a more thorough report coming out from the organizers. I also point out that I am an interested bystander to this field and somewhat of a semantic web/technology (SW/T) skeptic – so some views may be naive or just wrong. I like the ideas and concepts, I can see their value, but I have not been convinced to invest significant time and efort into “semantifying” my day to day work. A major motivation for my attending this workshop was to learn what the experts are doing and see how I could incorporate some of these ideas into my own work.

The Meeting

The first day started with 5 minute introductions which was quite useful and great overview talks by three of the attendees. With the information dump, a major focus of the day was a discussion of opportunities and challenges. This was a very useful session with attendees listing specific instances of challenges, opportunities, bottlenecks and so on. I was able to take some notes on the challenges, including

  • Funding – lack of it and difficulty in obtaining it (i.e., persuading funders)
  • Cultural and social issues around semantic approaches (e.g., why change what’s already working? etc)
  • Data problems such as errors being propagated through ontologies and semantic conversion processes etc (I wonder to what extent this is a result of automated conversion processes such as D2R, versus manual errors introduced during curation. I suspect a mix of both)
  • Hilbert Problems” – a very nice term coined by Katy to represent grand challenges or open problems that could serve as seeds around which the community could nucleate. (This aspect was of particular interest as I have found it difficult to identify compelling life science use cases that justify a retooling (even partial) of current workflows.)

The second day focused on breakout sessions, based on the opportunities and challenges listed the day before. Some notes on some of these sessions:

Bridging molecular data and clinical data – this session focused on challenges and opportunities in using molecular data together with clinical data to inform clinical decision making. Three broad opportunies came out of this, viz., Advancing understanding of disease conditions, Optimizing data types/measurements for clinical decision making outcomes and Drug repurposing. Certainly very broad goals, and not particularly focused on SW/T. My impression that SW/T can play an important role in standardization and optimization of coding standards to more easily and robustly connect molecular and clinical data sources. But one certainly needn’t invoke SW/T to address these opportunities

Knowledge discovery – the considerations addressed by this group included the fact that semantified data (vocabularies, ontologies etc) is increasing in volume and availability, tools are available to go from raw data to semantified forms and so on. An important point was made the quality is a key consideration at multiple levels – the raw data, the semantic representation and the links between semantic entities. A challenge identified by this group was to identify use cases that SW/T can resolve and traditional technologies cannot.

RDBMS vs semantic databases – this was an interesting session that tried to address the question of when one type of database is better than the other. It seems that the consensus was that certain problems are better suited for one type over another and a hybrid solution is usually a sensible approach – but that goes without saying. A comment was made that certain classes of problems that involve identifying paths between terms (nodes) are better suited for semantic (graph) databases – this makes intuitive sense, but there was a consensus that there weren’t any realistic applications that one could point to. I like the idea – have attributes in a RDBMS, but links in a graph database and use graph queries to identify relations and entities that are then mapped to the RDBMS. My concern with this is that path traversals are easy (Neo4J does this quite efficiently) – the problem is in the explosion of possible paths between nodes and the fact that the majority of them are trivial at best or nonsensical at worst. This suggests that relevance/ranking is a concern in semantic/graph databases.

The session of most interest to me was that of grand challenges. I think we got to 5  or 6 major challenges

  • How to represent knowledge (methods for, evaluation of)
  • How do changes in ontologies affect scientific research over time
  • How to construct an ontology from a set of ontologies (i.e. preexisting knowledge) that is better than the individual ones (and so links to how to evaluate an ontology in terms of “goodness”)
  • Error propagation from measurements to representation to analysis
  • Visualization of multi-dimensional / high dimensional data – while a general challenge, I think it’s correct that visual representations of semantified data (and their supporting infrastructure such as ontologies) could make the methods and tools much more accessible. Would’ve been nice if we had more discussion on this aspect

We finally ended with a discussion concrete projects that attendees would be interested in collaborating on and this was quite fruitful.

My Opinion

It turns out that a good chunk of the discussion focused on translational medicine (clinical informatics, drug repurposing etc.) and the use of different data types to enable life science research, but largely independent of SW/T. Indeed, the role of SW/T seemed rather fuzzy at times – to some extent, a useful tool, but not indispensable. My impression was that much of the SW/T that was discussed really focused on labeling of knowledge via ontologies and making links between datasets and the challenges faced during these operations (which is fine and important – but does it justify funding?).

I certainly got some conflicting views of the state of the art. Comments from Amit Sheth made it appear that SW/T is well established and the main problems are solved, based on deployed applications in the “enterprise”. But comments from many of the attendes working in life sciences suggested many problems in dealing and working with semantic data. Sure, Google has it’s Knowledge Graph and other search engines are employing SW/T under the hood. But if it’s so well established, where are the products, tools and workflows that an informatics-savvy non-expert in SW/T can employ? Does this mean research funding is not really required and it’s more of a productization/monetization issue? Or is this a domain specific issue – what works for general search doesn’t necessarily work in the life sciences?

My fundamental issue is the absence of a “killer application” – an application or use case that gives a non-trivial result, that could not be achieved via traditional means. (I qualify this, by asking for such use cases in life sciences. Maybe bankers have already found their killer applications). Depending on the semantic technology one considers there are partial answers: ontologies are an example of such a use case, when used to enable linkages between datasets and sources across domains. To me this makes perfect sense (and is of particular interest and use in current projects such as BARD). But surely, there must be more than designing ontologies and annotating data with ontological terms? One of the things that was surprising to me was that some of the future problems that were considered for possible collaborations were not really dependent on SW/T – in other words, they could largely be addressed via pre-existing methodologies.

My (admittedly cursory) reading of the SW/T literature seems to suggest to me that a major promise of this field is “reasoning” over my data. And I’m waiting for non-trivial assertions made based on linked data, ontologies and so on – that really highlight where my SQL tables will fail. It’s not sufficient (to me) to say that what took me 50 lines of Python code takes you 2 lines of SPARQL – I have an investment made in my RDBMS, API’s and codebase and yes, it takes a bit more fiddling – but I can get my answer in 5 minutes because it’s already been set up.

Some points were made regarding challenges faced by SW/T including complexity of OWL, difficulty in leaning SPARQL, poor performanec queries. Personally, these are not valid challenges and I certainlly do not make the claim that tricky SPARQL queries are preventing me from jumping into SW/T. I’m perfectly willing to wait 5 min for a SPARQL query to run, if the outcome is of sufficient value. The bigger issue for me is the value of the outcomes – maybe it’s just too early for truly novel, transformative results to be produced. Or maybe it’s simply one tool amongst others that can be used to tackle a certain class of problems.

Overall, it was a worthwhile two days interacting with a group of interesting people. But definitely some fuzziness in terms of what role SW/T can, should or will play in translational life science research.

Written by Rajarshi Guha

March 27th, 2013 at 7:26 pm