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BigBio = BIG DATA for Ruby

BigBio is an initiative to a create high performance low-memory libraries for big data computing in biology.

BigBio may use BioLib C/C++/D functions for increasing performance and reducing memory consumption.

In a way, this is an experimental project. I use it for experimentation, but what is in here should work fine. If you wish to contribute subscribe to the BioRuby and/or BioLib mailing lists instead.


  • BigBio can translate nucleotide sequences to amino acid sequences using an EMBOSS C function, or BioRuby's translator.
  • BigBio has a terrific FASTA file emitter which iterates FASTA files and iterates sequences without loading everything in memory. There is also an indexed edition
  • BioBio has a flexible FASTA filter
  • BigBio has an ORF emitter which parses DNA/RNA sequences and emits ORFs between START_STOP or STOP_STOP codons.
  • BigBio has a Phylip (PAML style) emitter and writer


The easy way

gem install bio-bigbio

in your code

require 'bigbio'

Command line tools

Some functionality comes also as executable command line tools (see the ./bin directory). Use the -h switch to get information. Current tools are

  1. getorf: fetch all areas between start-stop and stop-stop codons in six frames (using EMBOSS when biolib is available)
  2. nt2aa.rb: translate in six frames (using EMBOSS when biolib is available)
  3. fasta_filter.rb

Command line Fasta Filter

The CLI filter accepts standard Ruby commands.

Filter sequences that contain more than 25% C's

fasta_filter.rb --filter "rec.seq.count('C') > rec.seq.size*0.25" test/data/fasta/nt.fa

Look for IDs containing -126 and sequences ending on CCC

fasta_filter.rb --filter " =~ /-126/ or rec.seq =~ /CCC$/" test/data/fasta/nt.fa

Filter out all masked sequences that contain more than 10% masked nucleotides

fasta_filter.rb --filter "rec.seq.count('N')<rec.seq.size*0.10" 

Next to and rec.seq, you have rec.descr and 'num' as variables, so to skip every other record

fasta_filter.rb --filter "num % 2 == 0" 

Find all sequences that contain a stop codon in the sequence

fasta_filter.rb --filter 'rec.seq =~ /\*./' aa.fa

Rewrite all sequences to lower case, you can use the useful rewrite option

fasta_filter.rb --rewrite 'rec.seq = rec.seq.downcase'

Rewrite the FASTA descriptors

fasta_filter.rb --rewrite 'rec.descr =~ /gene=(\S+)/; rec.descr = $1' test.fa

Filters and rewrites can be combined. The rest is up to your imagination! One final example to remove low quality sequences from an amino acid file (one amino acid dominates):

fasta_filter.rb --filter "count = {} ; rec.seq.each_char { |c| count[c] ||= 1 ; count[c] += 1 }; count.values.max.to_f/rec.seq.size < 0.30" < aa.fa > aa1.fa

API Examples

Iterate through a FASTA file

Read a file without loading the whole thing in memory

require 'bigbio'

fasta =
fasta.each do | rec |
  print rec.descr,rec.seq

Since FastaReader parses the ID, write a tab file with id and sequence

i = 1
print "num\tid\tseq\n" do | rec |
  if =~ /(AT\w+)/
    print i,"\t",$1,"\t",rec.seq,"\n"
    i += 1

wich, for example, can be turned into RDF with the bio-table biogem.

Write a FASTA file

Write a FASTA file. The simple way

fasta =

Any object can be passed in, however, as long as it responds to 'descr' and 'seq.to_s', or 'id' and 'seq.to_s'. E.g.

class StorageObject
  attr_accessor :descr, :seq

mysequence =
mysequence.descr = 'Test'
mysequence.seq = "agtcta"

write the FASTA file

fasta =

Transform a FASTA file

You can combine above FastaReader and FastaWriter to transform sequences, e.g.

fasta = do | rec |
  # Strip the description down to the second ID
  (id1,id2) = /(\S+)\s+(\S+)/.match(rec.descr)

The downside to this approach is the explicit file naming. What if you want to use STDIN or some other source instead? I have come round to the idea of using a combination of lambda and block. For example:

  FastaReader::emit_fastarecord(-> {gets}) { |rec|
    print FastaWriter.to_fasta(rec)

which takes STDIN line by line, and outputs FASTA on STDOUT. This is a better design as the FastaReader and FastaWriter know nothing of the mechanism fetching and displaying data. These can both be 'pure' functions. Note also that the data is never fully loaded into RAM.

Here the transformer functional style

  FastaReader::emit_fastarecord(-> {gets}) { |rec|
    (id1,id2) = /(\S+)\s+(\S+)/.match(rec.descr)
    print FastaWriter.to_fasta(id2,req.seq)

Fetch ORFs from a sequence

BigBio can parse a sequence for ORFs. Together with the FastaReader little memory gets used

# get all ORFs between start and stop codons, longer than 30 bps
orfs = predictorf.startstop(30)
# get all sequences between stop codons
seqs = predictorf.stopstop(0)

Rapid DNA/RNA to amino acid translation

Translate with EMBOSS C library, if linked, otherwise use BioRuby

trn_table = Bio::Big::TranslationAdapter.translation_table(1)
translate =

Walk a FASTA (reference) genome

Genomes and BACS often come as large (continuous) FASTA files. When variant/position queries happen on sorted data, the genome can be walked through once reading the whole file serially. This is what FastaGenomeReader does.

The following code assumes the FASTA descriptors contain

  >13 dna:chromosome chromosome:GRCh37:13:1:115169878:1

so 'chr' is captured, as well as 'start' and 'stop'. Using bio-vcf:

genome ='Hs_GRCh37_gatk.fasta', -> 
  { |descr| a = skip,skip,skip,chr,start,stop = descr.split(':')
      chr, start.to_i, stop.to_i } )

STDIN.each_line do | line |
  next if line =~ /^#/
  fields = VcfLine.parse(line)
  rec =,header)
  if rec.var == genome.ref(vcf.chr,vcf.pos+1)
    # do something

FastaGenomeReader is buffered and tiled. You can override the size of 64K.

Project home page

Information on the source tree, documentation, examples, issues and how to contribute, see

The BioRuby community is on IRC server:, channel: #bioruby.


If you use this software, please cite one of

This Biogem is published on


Copyright (c) 2011-2014 Pjotr Prins. See LICENSE for further details.


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