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Bioinformatics code libraries and scripts

Project description


This is a collection of bioinformatics scripts many have found useful and code modules which make writing new ones a lot faster.

Over the years most bioinformatics people amass a collection of small utility scripts which make their lives easier. Too often they are kept either in private repositories or as part of a public collection to which noone else can contribute. Biocode is a curated repository of general-use utility scripts my colleagues and I have found useful and want to share with others. I have also developed some code libraries/modules which have made my scripting work a lot easier. Some have found these to be more useful than the scripts themselves.

Look below if you want to learn more, contribute code yourself, or just get the scripts.

– Joshua Orvis

The scripts

The scope here is intentionally very open. I want to include anything that developers find generally useful. There are no limitations on language choice, though the majority are Python. For now, the following directories make up the initial groupings but will be expanded as needed:

  • blast - It if uses, massages, or just reformats BLAST output, it goes here.

  • chado - Scripts that are tied into the chado schema ( should be found here.

  • fasta - Filtering, converting, size distribution plots, etc.

  • fastq - Utilities for fasta’s newer sister format.

  • genbank - Anything related to the GenBank? Flat File Format.

  • general - Utility scripts that may not fit in any other existing directory or don’t warrant creation of their own. We should be selective about what we put here and create or use other directories whenever appropriate.

  • gff - Extractions, conversions and manipulations of files in the Generic Feature Format

  • gtf - From Ensembl/WashU, the GTF format is the focus of scripts here.

  • hmm - Merging, manipulating or reading HMM libraries.

  • sam_bam - Analysis of and parsing SAM/BAM files.

  • sandbox - Each committer gets their own personal directory here to add anything they want while testing or waiting to be moved to the production directories.

  • sysadmin - While not specifically bioinformatics, our work tends to be on Unix machines, and utility scripts are often needed to support our work. From file system manipulation to database backup scripts, put your generic sysadmin utilities here.

  • taxonomy - Anything related to taxonomic analysis.

The modules

If you’re a developer these modules can save a lot of time. Yes, there is some duplicate functionality you’ll find in modules like Biopython, but these were written to add features I always wanted and with a more biologically-focused API.

Three of the primary Python modules:


Classes here represent biological things (as defined by the Sequence Ontology) in a way that makes more sense biologically and hiding some of the CS abstraction. What does this mean? This is a simple example, but compare these syntax approaches:

# This way is typical of other libraries
genes = assembly.get_subfeatures_by_type( 'type': 'genes' )
mRNAs = assembly.get_subfeatures_by_type( 'type': 'mRNA' )

# And instead, in biothings:
genes = assembly.genes()
for gene in genes:
    mRNAs = gene.mRNAs()

This more direct approach is held throughout these libraries. It also adds some shortcuts for tasks that always annoyed me when working with things that had coordinates. Consider if you wanted to determine if one gene is before another one on a molecule:

if gene1 < gene2:
    return True

In the background, biocode checks if the two gene objects are located on the same molecule and, if so, compares their coordinates. There are many other methods for coordinate comparison, such as:

  • thing1 <= thing2 : The thing1 overlaps thing2 on the 5’ end

  • thing1.contained_within( thing2 )

  • thing1.overlaps( thing2 )

  • thing1.overlap_size_with( thing2 )

This module also contains readable and detailed documention within the source code.


This set of classes allows formal definition of functional annotation which can be attached to various biothings. These include gene product names, gene symbols, EC numbers, GO terms, etc. Once annotated, the biothings can be written out in common formats such as GFF3, GenBank, NCBI tbl, etc.


Much of biocode was written while working with genomic data and annotation, and one of the more common formats for storing these is GFF3. Using this module, you can parse a GFF3 file of annotations into a set of biothings with a single line of code. For example:

import biocode.gff

(assemblies, features) = biocode.gff.get_gff3_features( input_file_path )

That’s it. You can then iterate over the assemblies and their children, or access the ‘features’ dict, which is keyed on each feature’s ID.

Installing dependencies

On Debian-based systems (like Ubuntu) you can be sure to get all biocode dependencies like this:

apt-get install -y python3 python3-pip zlib1g-dev libblas-dev liblapack-dev libxml2-dev

Getting the code (pip3, latest release)

You can install biocode using pip3 (requires Python3) like this:

pip3 install biocode

Getting the code (github, current trunk)

If you want the latest developer version:

git clone

Important: Many of these scripts use the modules in the biocode/lib directory, so you’ll need to point Python to them. Full setup example:

cd /opt
git clone

# You probably want to add this line to your $HOME/.bashrc file
export PYTHONPATH=/opt/biocode/lib:$PYTHONPATH

Problems / Suggestions?

If you encounter any issues with the existing code, or would like to request new features or scripts please submit to the Issue tracking system.


If you’d like to contribute code to this collection have a look at the Requirements And Convention Guide and then submit a pull request once your code is ready. We’ll check your script and pull it into the production directories. If you’re not that confident yet we’ll happily pull in your sandbox directory if you’d like to add your code to the project but aren’t sure if it’s ready to be in the production directories yet.

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