Feeds

Excel ate my DNA

Autoformating black hole

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

Genetic research is being hampered by a smart formatting function in Excel, according to US researchers.

The problem, which can cause medically important genes to be hidden from view, is widespread, and has affected some public databases, including the gene expression data on the NCBI LocusLink database in the US, the researchers say.

Excel is widely used in genetic research to process microarray data. A microarray chip detects amounts of protein produced from thousands of different genes, enabling researchers to see which particular gene is being expressed in a sample of diseased tissue, for example.

The errors are introduced because some genetic identifiers look very like dates to Excel. If the spreadsheet is not properly set up, it will convert an identifier, such as SEPT2 to a date: 2-Sep. The conversion, the researchers say, is irreversible: once the error has been introduced, the original data is gone.

In a paper published on BioMedCentral, Zeeberg et al explain that they noticed that some identifiers were being converted to non gene names.

"A little detective work traced the problem to default date format conversions and floating-point format conversions in the very useful Excel program package," they write. "The date conversions affect at least 30 gene names; the floating-point conversions affect at least 2,000 if Riken identifiers are included."

The researchers suggest several workarounds for the problem, which you can find here, but caution that despite these "even the most vigilant investigator can inadvertently introduce conversion errors, and it is often necessary to screen data received from other sources". ®

Related stories

Medical imaging research awarded £4.5m
University gets £1m complex systems grant
DNA-based nanobot takes a stroll

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
Munich considers dumping Linux for ... GULP ... Windows!
Give a penguinista a hug, the Outlook's not good for open source's poster child
The Return of BSOD: Does ANYONE trust Microsoft patches?
Sysadmins, you're either fighting fires or seen as incompetents now
Intel's Raspberry Pi rival Galileo can now run Windows
Behold the Internet of Things. Wintel Things
Microsoft cries UNINSTALL in the wake of Blue Screens of Death™
Cache crash causes contained choloric calamity
Eat up Martha! Microsoft slings handwriting recog into OneNote on Android
Freehand input on non-Windows kit for the first time
Linux kernel devs made to finger their dongles before contributing code
Two-factor auth enabled for Kernel.org repositories
Time to move away from Windows 7 ... whoa, whoa, who said anything about Windows 8?
Start migrating now to avoid another XPocalypse – Gartner
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.