Tip of the Week: PathCase for pathway data

We spend a lot of time exploring genomic data, variations, and annotations. But of course a linear perspective on the genes and sequences is not the only way to examine the data. Understanding the pathways in which genes and molecular entities interact is crucial to understanding systems biology.

There are a number of tools which can help you to visualize and explore this kind of data. KEGG is one of the most venerable tools in bioinformatics, BioCyc is well known and used, Reactome is one of our favorites. Recently NCBI BioSystems has come along, and the BioModels tool at EBI provides more data of this type as well. Pathway Interaction Database is another place to try. What you’ll find is that each one has different emphasis, species focus or data sets available, and different tools to use to graphically display the databases. The ways to customize or interact with the data will vary as well. So you may need to try several to find the one you want for your purposes.

But for today’s tip of the week I will highlight PathCase, a Pathways Database System from Case Western Reserve University. This is a  tool I’ve  had my eye on for a number of years, and they continue to add new features and data sets to their visualization and search interface which are very nicely done.

PathCase offers you several ways to browse and search for pathways, processes, organisms, and also molecular entities (such as ATP, ions, etc) as well as genes and proteins. It’s all integrated into the system, so when you find an item of interest you can move to the other related pieces.  For example, from the Pathways you can find genes and learn more about the genes. From genes you can load the pathways in which they participate.

When you have the pathway graphics loaded, you can interact with that pathway by clicking, dragging, re-organizing and more. Right-clicking offers more details about the items and ways to visualize the data. One option I didn’t have time to show in the movie is that you can use the H20/CO2 box to load up pathways that are linked to the one you are looking at and load those up, going even further along any route that you might be interested in. Here’s just a quick sample of that: from the NARS2 gene page I loaded the alanine pathway, and then added the fatty acid metabolism pathway. Now I can explore both of them with all the standard PathCase tools and understand many of their relationships. Once you start exploring these pathways you be amazed at how complex visualizations are possible.

So if you are interested in biological pathways, exploring them and representing them, check out PathCase.

PathCase site: http://nashua.cwru.edu/pathwaysweb/

Elliott, B., Kirac, M., Cakmak, A., Yavas, G., Mayes, S., Cheng, E., Wang, Y., Gupta, C., Ozsoyoglu, G., & Meral Ozsoyoglu, Z. (2008). PathCase: pathways database system Bioinformatics, 24 (21), 2526-2533 DOI: 10.1093/bioinformatics/btn459

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