Visualization and interaction of genomic data in virtual reality
Modeling genomic data in virtual reality (VR) is a powerful, virtually unexplored field to view and analyze sequencing data. The purpose of this project was to develop a tool that utilizes the advantages provided by VR to visualize genomic data in an intuitive and useful manner. The tool was modeled using the base concept of a Circos plot, an image widely used to visualize genomic data in a flexible manner. There are several limitations of a two-dimensional circos: its static interface and lack of user interaction. These constrain the amount of accessible data and restricts the viewing of genomic data to the user’s screen space. A three-dimensional modeling software, Blender, was used to create the tool’s main design components. The design was optimized with the aim to advantageously utilize the virtually limitless space offered by a VR environment. A user can select any [human] somatic study from a local database or public domain, such as GeneEntrez, and have this data dynamically parsed and interpreted into clinically relevant data types such as, single nucleotide variants, copy number variations, and translocations. We leveraged Unity, the main development platform used in this project, to dynamically generate and populate panels of information based on user interaction with our model. Through the integration of Leap Motion, a controller that senses and displays hand movements in VR, a user is no longer encumbered by physical tools such as a mouse, keyboard, or a screen. With our novel platform, the user is virtually immersed in the data and has a unique and previously unexplored technology to view and interact with genomic data.