Google Summer of Code: Let the enquiries commence!

Last month we applied for InterMine to join Google Summer of Code (GSoC) as a mentor organisation, and we’re pleased to report that we have officially been accepted!

Students: Interested in working with us for GSoC?

Our GSoC site has a project ideas list and the student application guidance, which hopefully will answer most of your questions.

Want to learn more?

  • You can also read our GSoC blog posts from last year to learn more about how things went.
  • If you still have questions:
    • If the question is project-specific: email both listed mentors of the given project.
    • If the question is about GSoC in general, see the student manual.
    • We’ll be running a GSoC question and answer video call session where students can learn more about the specific projects. Updates about the exact date and time will go out on this blog, our mailing lists, and twitter.

We’ll look forward to hearing from you!



Community Spotlight: Correlating fly gene expression with FlyCAGE – Interview with @codingbash

For today’s blog we’ve interviewed Basheer Becerra, an undergrad bioinformatics researcher at the Illinois State University, about the application he’s created, FlyCAGE – (Correlation Analysis on Gene Expression). (Live Demo, GitHub)

Hi Basheer! We love hearing about new and interesting uses of InterMine. Can you give us a brief non-technical intro to FlyCAGE? What inspired you to make it?

FlyCAGE is a web application that allow users to search for genes in Drosophila melanogaster that follow a specific mRNA expression pattern. The user can either enter a known gene name to find other genes with similar expression profiles, or the user can enter a custom expression pattern based on experimental data to find genes that follow the pattern. FlyCAGE would be useful in identifying candidate genes involved in a given process and discovering regulatory interactions in genetic networks.

Tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Basheer Becerra, and I am currently an undergraduate junior at Illinois State University double majoring in Computer Science & Statistics and minoring in Biological Sciences. Programming is something I love doing, specifically web development and data science. What makes me even more excited is using programming and mathematics to answer difficult questions in biology! When I’m not on the computer, you will usually see me reading, training for upcoming marathons, or spending time with friends and family.

You’ve been a friendly presence in our Twitter feed for a while now. How did you hear about InterMine originally?

InterMine was originally introduced to me by my advisor, Dr. Nathan Mortimer, as a tool to help scientists quickly review information about any gene. While InterMine is a helpful tool for scientists to browse gene information, I’ve also realized that InterMine is incredibly useful for developers and data scientists. When my advisor and I came up with the idea of FlyCAGE, InterMine was chosen to be the best solution for retrieving data due to its data integration features and ease of use.

Can you tell us a bit about the technical implementation of FlyCAGE?

The technologies used to implement FlyCAGE includes Spring Framework (Java) for the web back-end, Thymeleaf for template resolving, and HTML/CSS/Bootstrap and JS/jQuery for front-end development. After the expression information is extracted from the entered gene or pattern, Pearson’s correlation is performed on every gene stored in FlyBase for Drosophila melanogaster. Genes with the highest pearson’s correlation coefficient relative to the input expression is returned to the user. InterMine plays a significant role in the operation of FlyCAGE since FlyMine is the only resource used to retrieve the gene information and mRNA expression data. With FlyMine’s modern HTTP API, only a single query is needed to retrieve all the necessary data for FlyCAGE to operate. Without FlyMine’s data integration, FlyCAGE would have to manually integrate data from several different data-sources such as FlyBase, FlyAtlas, BDGP, etc., which would slow down development significantly.

What are your future plans for FlyCAGE? Are you going to expand to other organisms apart from flies?

As far as the program logic, the plan is to include more complex analysis of expression data such as including other data features to help determine “gene similarity”, predict regulatory interactions and unknown gene functions, and explain subtle differences in gene pairs with correlated expression patterns. There has also been a lot of interest to expand CAGE towards other organisms such as plant genomes. With InterMine’s standardized API interface across its several resources, I predict that scaling the functionality of CAGE towards other organisms should be a relatively feasible task.

FlyCAGE is currently in-alpha and can be accessed by this link. However, the link is likely to change as FlyCAGE gets close to releasing. If you would like to stay up-to-date with FlyCAGE or if you would like to help us with usability tests to improve FlyCAGE, please enter your email with this Google Form. If you’ve already looked at FlyCAGE and would like to send some feedback, send me a quick note at Any help is appreciated!

‘Twas the week before Christmas… [aka InterMine availability over the holiday period]

… and all through the lab, not an organism was stirring, not even a… crab?*

Emails and support: Just a quick blog reminder that the office will be pretty empty from around now until the second of January, so don’t be surprised if we take a while to reply to messages. Some of us may be in the office or working from home, but it’s pretty patchy over the holiday season, and I don’t think any of us will be answering emails between the 23rd and 26th of December, nor on the first of January.

Developer calls: There is no developer call this week (normally it would be scheduled for Thursday the 21st). I’m not sure at this point, but the call on the 4th of January may (or may not) be cancelled as well.

Be good, have fun, and we’ll see you next year!

*I can only apologise for the terrible rhyme. Apparently nothing rhymes with “Cambridge” except “drainage” (and even then it’s somewhat weak), so I tried “uni” and that only rhymed with “loony” and “goonie”. Finding rhymes for the word “office” was no better.

Looking ahead: InterMine+Google Summer of Code 2018. Could you be a mentor?

2017 is coming to an end, and I have to say it’s been a fabulous one! I’ll probably post a “cool things InterMine did this year” round-up in a week or two – but in the meantime, here’s my final Google Summer of Code blog for you all!  We’ll cover the InterMine swag just sent out across the globe, as well as plans for next year – and how you can help out.

Thank-you gifts for mentors and students

Last week, we posted care packages to all our GSoC mentors and summer students, in the form of t-shirts, stickers, and pens. The postal-service-wrinkled shirt shown above is the women’s fit shirt printed on black; unisex shirts are a slightly lighter grey colour. If you filled out the swag survey when it was sent to you, your gift should be with you soon! Tweet us your images of the items in use for extra InterMine Cool Points 😎.

GSoC 2018 – call for project ideas and mentors!

Early 2017, we put together an ideas list for GSoC projects – InterMine’s projects are numbers 3 to 9. If you want to get more of an idea what it’s like to apply, (or be a mentor), read our application guidance from last year.

Do you have a nifty idea, or an InterMine itch you’d like to scratch?

Please share it with us! Add it to our 2018 Google Summer of Code ideas list, or if you need to sound things out and discuss them a little bit, comment on the GitHub issue, or email the dev list. You can even propose several ideas, if you like! Please add all ideas by the end of 14th of December (end of this week).

Would you like to try mentoring?

Fancy a chance to earn some nifty exclusive swag like pictured above? Add your name as a possible mentor to an existing idea (or your own new idea). You can always drop us a line if you want to discuss things first. We like projects to have more than one mentor if possible.

Maybe you’re a student thinking of GSoC?

Awesome! If you have your own InterMine project idea (whether it’s brand new or you’ve already started it), or if one of the ideas on our ideas list lights your fire, it’s not too early to start talking with potential mentors about it. The application guidance we mentioned above would be a good read, too.



#OpenConCam: Where open (science | access | source | data) meet.

What is OpenCon?

OpenCon is a yearly event designed to bring together people who are dedicated to open in all its incarnations. It’s in such high demand, the only way to get in is by application, and most attendees are provided with scholarships to help with travel/accommodation costs.

We weren’t able to attend the international event, but thankfully there was a great satellite event running in Cambridge – OpenConCam.

OpenConCam was in itself a day filled with memorable talks and worthwhile collaborations, including:

PeerJ – (Sierra Williams)

PeerJ is an open access journal which focuses on methodological rigour  when publishing, rather than preferring groundbreaking new science – something particularly important for early career researchers. One of my favourite points from her talk was when she demonstrated the checklist that PeerJ uses to help authors disseminate their content effectively:

Open access in developing nations (Tapoka Mkandawire)

Many of us know from personal experience that accessing scientific publications even in wealthier western countries can be controversially difficult, so it’s hard to imagine how much more difficult this must be in developing countries. Thankfully, there are initiatives such as Africa Information Highway, Eifl, and Hinari which aim to make data and publications more accessible. She also discussed the cultural concept of ubuntu – sharing and caring for each other as a concept that works hand-in-hand with the open* movement.

Bullied into Bad Science (Laurent Gatto)

Bullied Into Bad Science is a campaign to help early career researchers who may be under pressure to omit or tweak their scientific results in order to gain a desired outcome or exciting publication. Laurent was clearly passionate about this subject: Sometimes the system pressures mean that successful academics are not necessarily good scientists – and things really shouldn’t be this way.

Queen B

This session was frantic! The basic premise was that the room divided into groups of 4, nominated a “queen bee” who presented a problem (in one minute), and then the group broke up and discussed possible solutions with others in the room for three minutes, reporting back over the span of two minutes. Lather, rinse, repeat until all members in a group have been queen bees. Topics I recall discussing included getting humanities more involved in open science, open source code in science, how to inspire people to publish in journals with strict open policies when they could go for a less principled journal more easily, and how to sell open* to the disinterested.

Hitting a moving target in Open Access advocacy  (Danny Kingsley)

Danny shared something dear to our hearts: Getting others involved in open. While she was specifically referring to open access, most points could easily be applied to open science, data, and source too. Her focus was on figuring out how to get the most “bang for buck” – that is, find and influence people who will pay off the most for the least effort.

Undergrads, for example, aren’t great targets as they mostly don’t continue in academia, but PIs, and government bodies may be more useful, because they have much more influence if they’re sold on open access. Similarly, sometimes it makes more sense to influence decision makers and get them to evangelise for you, if you don’t have enough authority to impress people. Make sensible decisions, and don’t run up against brick walls repeatedly if it isn’t paying off!

Focus Groups

After lunch, we had an unconference-style set of sessions, where everyone nominated topics they were interested in, and added stars beside ideas they themselves were interested in attending. The resulting sessions were:

  • Self-care in Open: Many of us volunteer time outside a normal 9-5 job to help promote open, and the environment can be discouraging or rough sometimes – not everyone is as keep on open as we are! Suggestions presented by Kirstie Whitaker included working with micro-ambitions (turning your work into small, achievable chunks rather than trying to conquer everything), and thinking of success as a spectrum. A small win is still a win!
  • Open + inclusive: Laurent Gatto pointed out in a blog post earlier this year that the Open movements aren’t always as…. open as they should be. Sometimes Open Science can fall down in the same places less open science falls down – not making sure to have a decent balance of ethnicities, genders, sexual orientation, etc. Can we do better?

  • Open source code in science: If you’re an InterMiner, you’re probably already pretty keen on open source scientific software and can see the benefit of it – but not everyone does. Many, many papers that use code to produce their scientific results don’t expose that code. But if the code isn’t in the paper, or linked to it openly in some way… how was it peer reviewed? If the code is wrong, so is the science it produces. I proposed this discussion topic, and really enjoyed perspectives from my team mates. Some of the ideas generated included:
    • Share dummy data to run your code on, if the data are proprietary or there are privacy issues.
    • Try to encourage journals to have software availability statements
    • Encouraging researchers to share their code, even if it’s only a few lines. After all, if you’ve written 6 lines of code to configure an R plot, whilst it might seem insignificant – that’s actually really easy to peer review and correct mistakes! By comparison, bigger software packages can be hundreds, thousands, or even millions of lines of code. The thought of trying to review that (beyond reviewing quality metrics like testing, documentation, and commenting) makes me a bit scared.
  • Open in the humanities: This is a fascinating subject, and I don’t think many (any?) of the audience members were in the humanities. We raised a lot of questions about the shape of humanities data.

Opening the lab door (Christie Bahlai)

After the focus groups, Christie Bahlai skyped in to talk about running an open lab. She shared some of the different types of pushback against open science:

  • Those who consider themselves too busy to share
  • People who have been pushed from ‘busy’ status to actively hostile against open science, perhaps when they were asked to participate further and didn’t wish to
  • The worried –  people who have legitimate concerns about open science (I’m sure I’m not the only person who doesn’t really believe in “anonymised personal data”).
  • The unheard – those who are disadvantaged and marginalised already worry that practising open will marginalise them further. How can we protect these people?

She also talked about getting people involved in open as early as possible, including introductions to open as part of the undergrad curriculum:

A few more of her tips:

  • Get students’ feet wet in open science by slowly introducing them to the concepts using examples in their own fields – examples they’ll care about.
  • Share your lab policies openly and don’t tolerate the “brilliant jerk” – at the end of the day no matter how productive they are, they’re still jerks.
  • Keep science a kind place. Show others that you too can fail publicly, and fail often.
  • Share your lesson plans openly, too! Christie’s “Reproducible quantitative methods” curriculum is designed to provide a good introduction to open, reproducible data wrangling using R and GitHub.

The open source investigation revolution (Eliot Higgins)

This talk was an out-of-the-blue surprise. Rather than focusing on academia like most of the previous talks, Eliot shared how open videos, photos, and “facts” on the web can be verified for journalism. If you’ve heard of doxxing, you’ll know a bit about the techniques Eliot described, using social media, satellite imagery, and other online tools to track people who don’t want to be tracked – but this time, for Good. He described how some of the white supremacist rally leaders were identified, as well as verifying missile attacks in Syria – including who perpetrated them and who was lying about it.

This talk stilled twitter’s usually vibrant #OpenConCam discussions to a halt, probably due to the riot of emotions it induced in most of the participants. We’d been shown highly disturbing images, felt fear wondering how these techniques could be misused, and we awed by the massive importance of what we’re seeing, no matter how awful it was. I’m sure I wasn’t the only person torn between wishing I’d never seen it and knowing that I had to watch it, because burying our heads in the sand isn’t an option either.


OpenCon 2018 hasn’t been announced yet, but this year, all around the world, there are still satellite events like the one I attended. If you haven’t attended a conference about working openly before, this is a great way to get a taste – or if you’re a die-hard enthusiast, you’ll get the chance to meet like-minded individuals and be inspired!

Community Outreach: What we’re up to & how you can participate

A large part of working in open source and science is sharing what you do with others – it’s not just about code and papers. We have quite a bit going on and coming up that we’d like to share and get your ideas about.

Community outreach calls

We’ll experimentally be trialling a community outreach call on December 7th at 5PM GMT. This happens at the same time as our normal developer call usually would, but we’re specifically focusing on community members and ways to communicate and help them out. It will not have a focus on technical issues or code.

Developers are still entirely welcome to come along, but please encourage your curators, enthusiastic users, and outreach people to come along too! Agenda

Open outreach repo on GitHub

We’ve created a GitHub repository dedicated to outreach-related topics. The idea is to take discussions out to the open about what we’re doing so others can chime in and/or re-use or work. Examples include:

Science Festival – March 2018

We’ll be participating in the Cambridge Science Festival, teaching about better data enabling better science. The basic idea is teach this through gameplay with puzzles, rewarded with candy and stickers. Do you have kids who might be willing to playtest our ideas? Let us know!

Webinars and tutorials

We’ve done workshops in person, we did a developer workshop: we’d like to try something online this time! What formats interest you / your users the most?

  • A series of short 5-minute-ish webinars covering various topics
  • A longer training session, covering querying InterMine via website and/or API? Perl, Python or R?
  • Other? Share your feelings in a comment, contact us, or add to the GitHub issue
  • Maybe you’d like to volunteer to run one!

Google Summer of Code

Do you have an idea for a fun InterMine project that would only take a couple of months? Or maybe you would like to mentor a project over the summer? We had a great time during GSoC this year, and we’re planning to apply to do it again next year. Interested? More info on GitHub.

Rachel’s world tour of the UK

As part of the upcoming ISA-InterMine cloud grant, Rachel will be visiting bioinformatics cores and labs to try and solicit use-cases from people who are working with biological data right at the front. Want to help our or invite us to your lab? Get in touch.

Guest blogging

Come tell our followers about the awesome thing InterMine thing you just did. A conference? a talk? a new features or exciting dataset in your mine? We’d love to be the platform for your voice!



Talks and Workshops: Sharing our materials for re-use

Would you like to grab some ready-made slides or InterMine training workshop materials? We’ve rounded up of some recent things that have been going on. Feel free to remix materials for your own talks and outreach efforts. If you do use them, we’d love to see the result!


You should have permissions to make a copy; if not, please contact us / tweet us / pop by chat to poke us with a stick.

3-min lightning talk at GSoC Mentor Summit: Citable version on FigshareGoogle Drive (editable) version

Better Science Through Better Data: Citable version on Figshare | Google Drive (editable) version | Featured image above was live-scribed during  the talk. Licence is CC-BY from Springer Nature, and the image is available from

Blank InterMine-branded slides: Get ’em here.


BlueGenes Poster: This poster was presented at BOSC 2017Citeable version on F1000Inkscape editable version –  (download Inkscape here:

InterMine Poster for Elixir UK All Hands 2017: PDF version | Inkscape editable version 

Workshop learning materials

We run an InterMine training workshop every term, covering the basics of using the webapp, as well as discussing how to draw data from the API. If you’re near Cambridge, keep your eyes open on the blog or twitter feed, as we’ll always announce them well in advance.

Workshop training materials in PDF: Workshop Exercises – handouts with answers | Workshop slides – note that these exercises were all correct with data from HumanMine in October 2017. Numbers of results may change if we add or update new data sources in the future, but the majority of the materials should still be generally correct apart from the results counts. 

You can download the original OpenOffice files as well if you’d like to adapt the materials for your own workshops, or feel free to contact us if you’d like to coordinate some training with us.

Side note: We’re also delivering a half-day workshop training session as part of the EBI’s 4-day Introduction to Multiomics Data Integration course – applications are open now until 01 December 2017.


Data, Scientific (2017): Better Science through Better Data 2017 (#scidata17) scribe images. figshare.

Retrieved: 15:48, Nov 06, 2017 (GMT)