What’s the Answer? (to Venn or not to Venn)

This week’s highlighted item from Biostars gets back to the visualization challenges that I love to think about. The question posted asked for help for an 11-set Venn diagram. What was funny about the response was that the overwhelming consensus was: please, no! And alternatives were offered.

Biostars is a site for asking, answering and discussing bioinformatics questions and issues. We are members of the Biostars_logo community and find it very useful. Often questions and answers arise at Biostars that are germane to our readers (end users of genomics resources). Every Thursday we will be highlighting one of those items or discussions here in this thread. You can ask questions in this thread, or you can always join in at Biostars.

Question: Venn diagram with 11 sets

Hi All,

can anyone recommend me a tool/package, which allows me to create Venn diagrams up to 11 sets? The packages which I have found so far can support to create less sets only.

Many thanks!


The question was a frequent problem in various data sets. You want to find the members of groups that overlap in different conditions, treatment situations, genes present or absent in different species, whatever. In the most famous case of Venn illustration, the banana genome team created a much-discussed masterpiece of sets of genes in shared gene families among other plant species. It was so astonishing to look at that it even got Cory Doctorow’s attention: Just look at that banana genome Venn diagram. But genomics Venn diagrams get around. Here’s one that became fashion:

However, part of the problem with the Venn is that it was so difficult to interpret. As a developer of visualization tools told me later, Venns do not scale well for genomics types of data. He was UpSet about genome folks trying to force the data in, and created the very neat UpSet tool to help that: Video Tip of the Week: UpSet about genomics Venn Diagrams?

So I added that to the responses, but there were other suggestions too. Go have a look at the ensuing discussion.