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What is a genome browser and why do we need one?

Introduction to Artemis, an open-source genome browser for the analysis of bacterial genomes and other small genomes.
An Artemis screenshot showing colour-coded genes in a region of a genome
© Wellcome Genome Campus Advanced Courses and Scientific Conferences

In this article, we introduce genome browsers, which are revolutionary tools that help us to understand genes in the context of whole genomes.

What is a genome browser?

A genome browser is a computer program that displays genomic data in a user-friendly manner. It takes typically very large files, such as whole genome FASTA files and displays them in a way that we users can make sense of the information there.

In most cases, genome browsers are designed to integrate different types of data represented in different types of data files. For example, annotation files, those that contain information about the location of genes in the genome, can also be loaded into a genome browser so we can visually inspect the location of the genes.

This is important because we can interpret results more intuitively when we can see information in a genomic context and not in isolation (i.e. a single gene sequence).

What types of genome browsers are available?

There are many genome browsers available. What they can do depends on the tasks that are needed by the researchers and the community that makes use of the browser.

Many of them can be accessed directly from the internet and they are able to display information from commonly searched or researched organisms. For example, on the advent of the Human Genome Project, the University of California Santa Cruz developed the UCSC genome browser.

Nowadays it displays information not only for the human genome but also for many other organisms such as worms and flies.

© Wellcome Genome Campus Advanced Courses and Scientific Conferences
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Bacterial Genomes II: Accessing and Analysing Microbial Genome Data Using Artemis

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