Genomes as geography: using GIS technology to build interactive genome feature maps.

Document Type


Publication Date



Chromosome-Mapping, Databases-Genetic, Gene-Expression-Regulation, Genome, Geographic-Information-Systems, Mice

JAX Source

BMC Bioinformatics 2006; 7:416.


BACKGROUND: Many commonly used genome browsers display sequence annotations and related attributes as horizontal data tracks that can be toggled on and off according to user preferences. Most genome browsers use only simple keyword searches and limit the display of detailed annotations to one chromosomal region of the genome at a time. We have employed concepts, methodologies, and tools that were developed for the display of geographic data to develop a Genome Spatial Information System (GenoSIS) for displaying genomes spatially, and interacting with genome annotations and related attribute data. In contrast to the paradigm of horizontally stacked data tracks used by most genome browsers, GenoSIS uses the concept of registered spatial layers composed of spatial objects for integrated display of diverse data. In addition to basic keyword searches, GenoSIS supports complex queries, including spatial queries, and dynamically generates genome maps. Our adaptation of the geographic information system (GIS) model in a genome context supports spatial representation of genome features at multiple scales with a versatile and expressive query capability beyond that supported by existing genome browsers. RESULTS: We implemented an interactive genome sequence feature map for the mouse genome in GenoSIS, an application that uses ArcGIS, a commercially available GIS software system. The genome features and their attributes are represented as spatial objects and data layers that can be toggled on and off according to user preferences or displayed selectively in response to user queries. GenoSIS supports the generation of custom genome maps in response to complex queries about genome features based on both their attributes and locations. Our example application of GenoSIS to the mouse genome demonstrates the powerful visualization and query capability of mature GIS technology applied in a novel domain. CONCLUSION: Mapping tools developed specifically for geographic data can be exploited to display, explore and interact with genome data. The approach we describe here is organism independent and is equally useful for linear and circular chromosomes. One of the unique capabilities of GenoSIS compared to existing genome browsers is the capacity to generate genome feature maps dynamically in response to complex attribute and spatial queries.