Vol. 29 no. 8 2013, pages 1101–1102
BIOINFORMATICS APPLICATIONS NOTE
Databases and ontologies
Advance Access publication February 23, 2013
Genetic Simulation Resources: a website for the registration and
discovery of genetic data simulators
Bo Peng1,*, Huann-Sheng Chen2, Leah E. Mechanic3, Ben Racine4, John Clarke4,
Lauren Clarke4, Elizabeth Gillanders3and Eric J. Feuer2
1Department of Genetics, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX, 77030,2Statistical
Methodology and Applications Branch, Surveillance Research Program, Division of Cancer Control and Population
Sciences, National Cancer Institute (NCI), National Institutes of Health (NIH), Bethesda, MD 20892,3Host Susceptibility
Factors Branch, Epidemiology and Genomics Research Program, Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences,
NCI, NIH, Bethesda, MD 20892 and4Cornerstone Systems Northwest, Inc. Lynden, WA 98264
Associate Editor: Martin Bishop
Summary: Many simulation methods and programs have been de-
veloped to simulate genetic data of the human genome. These data
have been widely used, for example, to predict properties of popula-
tions retrospectively or prospectively according to mathematically in-
tractable genetic models, and to assist the validation, statistical
inference and power analysis of a variety of statistical models.
However, owing to the differences in type of genetic data of interest,
simulation methods, evolutionary features, input and output formats,
terminologies and assumptions for different applications, choosing the
right tool for a particular study can be a resource-intensive process
that usually involves searching, downloading and testing many differ-
ent simulation programs. Genetic Simulation Resources (GSR) is a
website provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) that aims to
help researchers compare and choose the appropriate simulation
tools for their studies. This website allows authors of simulation soft-
ware to register their applications and describe them with well-defined
attributes, thus allowing site users to search and compare simulators
according to specified features.
Received on January 31, 2013; revised on February 13, 2013;
accepted on February 16, 2013
Owing to the cost and availability of genetic samples, lack of
knowledge of causal variants that contribute to observed pheno-
types and mathematical intractability of complex evolutionary
models, computer simulations have been widely used, among
many applications, to predict outcomes under realistic genetic
scenarios (e.g. Peng and Kimmel, 2007), to compare and verify
analytical methods or tools (e.g. Spencer et al., 2009) and to
estimate parameters of evolutionary models (e.g. Peter et al.,
2010). With increasing power of personal computers and the
availability of computer clusters, novel simulation methods and
sophisticated simulation programs have been and continue to be
developed to simulate genetic data for new application areas such
as large-scale genomic studies (Dalquen et al. 2012).
Despite the availability of a large number of simulation pro-
grams, choosing appropriate simulation programs for a particu-
lar research topic can be a time-consuming process that usually
involves studying, downloading and testing many different tools
with varying quality. Adding to the difficulties is the fact that
many software applications lack comprehensive documentation,
and use implicit assumptions and terminologies that are familiar
only to researchers in particular research areas. As a result, at an
NCI-sponsored conference, meeting participants recommended
creating a web resource that summarizes available genetic simu-
lation programs (Mechanic et al., 2012).
Genetic Simulation Resources (GSR) is a website provided by
NCI that aims to help researchers compare and choose the right
simulation tools for their studies. This website allows authors of
simulation software to register their applications and describe
them with standardized attributes that are understandable to
researchers in diverse research areas. Visitors of this website
can browse a catalogue of genetic data simulators, review simu-
lators of interest and search and compare simulators according
to specified features. This pre-sorting allows researchers to focus
on the most applicable simulators before starting the time-con-
suming process of downloading and testing the packages
We searched published articles for software applications that simulate
genetic data for the human genome in scientific journals such as
Bioinformatics, BMC Bioinformatics, Genetics and Molecular Biology
and Evolution. We selected simulators that can simulate genetic markers,
haploid and diploid DNA sequences and RNA and protein sequences of
the human genome. We excluded simulators without an accessible web
page or download link and those that are designed for teaching purposes
and are limited in their ability to simulate usable genetic data. We also
excluded packages that have been replaced by newer or updated packages
from the same authors.
We collected basic information of selected simulators, including short
and long descriptions, URL to package web page, project start date and
version and release date of the most recent release. We went through
publications and documentation of these simulators and summarized
*To whom correspondence should be addressed.
? The Author 2013. Published by Oxford University Press.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/), which
permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
their features with 167 attributes in 8 categories and 25 subcategories.
These attributes range from key features such as type of genetic variations
that can be simulated (e.g. single nucleotide polymorphism, insertion and
deletion and microsatellite) and simulation methods (e.g. coalescent, for-
ward time, resampling based and phylogenetic), to development features
such as programming language, supported platform and license informa-
tion. Because not all aspects of packages will be captured using these
standard attributes, we allow package owners to annotate existing attri-
butes with package-specific comments and define package-specific
We entered attributes of selected simulators and characterized them to
the best of our knowledge. To ensure the accuracy of data, we sent a
questionnaire to all package authors and received responses from ap-
proximately half of the authors, which may suggest that some packages
have been left unmaintained for various reasons. We revised attributes of
packages according to feedback from authors.
The GSR website currently provides an interface to a catalogue of 80
registered packages (Fig. 1), with a global search box, a list view of all
software resources and interfaces to rank packages according to selected
attributes and compare attributes of selected packages. Packages in this
catalogue are continuously being added and updated by authors and
users of simulation programs. GSR does not host or maintain individual
packages and is not responsible for the accuracy and timely update of
information related to these packages. We plan to evaluate the activity of
packages regularly, based on factors including, but not limited to, avail-
ability of website and download links, number of updates and web vis-
itors to package pages on GSR, number of applications (citations) and
feedback from users of GSR. Packages that are no longer used by
the research community will be phased out and eventually removed
GSR provides a catalogue of genetic data simulators with de-
tailed descriptions and list of features of each package, which
make it easier for users of GSR to search and compare simula-
tors and identify the most appropriate simulators for particular
research topics. Package authors will also benefit from this ser-
vice because a centralized catalogue would increase visibility of
their software, and a clear list of features would help with docu-
mentation of their packages. GSR compliments existing review
articles (e.g. Hoban et al., 2012; Liu et al., 2008) on genetic
simulation programs by providing a comprehensive up-to-date
list of programs, with links to web pages and searchable attri-
butes, in a user-friendly format.
GSR is still under active development. Features that will be
provided in the near future include an automated revision pro-
posal and approval process, a citation management interface to
track the applications of packages and a user-feedback system.
We encourage all authors of genetic data simulators to register
their packages in GSR and place a link to GSR on their websites,
which would turn individually hosted packages to a web of simu-
lators that could greatly facilitate the application, development
and dissemination of genetic simulators.
The GSR team thanks all authors who have responded to our
questionnaire and verified attributes of their packages.
Funding: The development of GSR is supported by a contract
HHSN261201100558P from the National Cancer Institute.
Conflict of Interest: none declared.
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Fig. 1. Illustration of the genetic simulation resources website
B.Peng et al.