Tip of the Week: one iPad app to rule them all


There is none.

Ok, so that is the simple answer. The complicated answer is this: my ideal genome browser iPad app would have the flexibility to go from a mass market browser to look at an individual’s genomic variants in a genomic context with information about the research, genes, etc presented in such a manner so that any thoughtful person or doctor could understand, to a full fledged UCSC genome browser type research tool.

So, that’s not feasible. Instead, I’m going to look at three genome browsers for the iPad, two for research, one for the mass market. The former are GeneWall by Bioskoop and Wowser by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the latter is MyGenome by Illumina (links take you to iTunes app store).

The iPad and other touch tablets are perfect research assistants and the day is fast approaching, if it’s not already here, where most researchers will have one on the lab bench for entering and accessing data.

So what am I looking for in a iPad genome browser?
Navigable: it should have a very intuitive, iPad native navigation. I should be able to pinch and swipe my way through the genome with finely controlled ease.
Comprehensive: I should be able to access my genome of choice, past assemblies, and a huge range of annotations.
Flexible: I should be able to upload my own annotations with ease.

Why not just go to the UCSC Genome Browser? You could, but it fails the first test. It’s definitely usable, but many features available on a computer are not available on the iPad and navigation is obviously not iPad native.

20120509-091620.jpgGeneWall works nicely on the first criteria, but zooming in and out takes several (sometimes many) pinches of the fingers. There is no simple way to zoom in and out or walk the chromosome in a more fine tuned manner. On the second, though it comes with a single genome (human) with only a few annotation tracks so it’s not very comprehensive to start, you can easily add annotation tracks downloaded as bed files. So it has some flexibility. The pathway search and gene list function are nice too. A quick YouTube intro here.

20120509-091959.jpgWowser is somewhat different in that it is an iPad interface to the UCSC Genome Browser. It works natively with the iPad and so is easy to navigate. Zooming and walking was intuitive. On a few different wireless networks it was slow to load, but not excruciatingly so. It is quite comprehensive, including the latest human reference sequence and many, but not all, of the UCSC tracks. The tracks are simple to hide or add in. Future updates are said to be including other genomes and more tracks. I could not find a way to add your own custom tracks or data, so on flexibility GeneWall wins out.

Both apps are great, if not quite “there” yet. I think either would be useful if you are looking at the human genome for research.

20120509-092126.jpgMyGenome is a different beast. From Illumina, it’s audience is not the researcher but the medical professional and patient. It’s a beautiful app with a nice interface. Easily navigable, it was simple to get to the information wanted. There is a lot of information there, but it is still quite limited. I took several variations that effect propensity for prostate cancer and other diseases and was unable to find information on them either because the variation is listed but no information, of variation was in an intergenic region which seemingly isn’t included. A user can not yet upload their own data,or other annotations, which is understandable since by Illumina’s own account this is only the beginning. Currently it’s a great educational tool (though I was a hung for more gene information), in the future it will be a good way to browse your own data.

So the bottom line for all three of these are that they are useful as they stand and for their stated purpose, but I’m looking forward to the future of browsing genome data like I was on an Avatar set :). It’s coming.