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Reproducibility of computational workflows is automated using continuous analysis


Replication, validation and extension of experiments are crucial for scientific progress. Computational experiments are scriptable and should be easy to reproduce. However, computational analyses are designed and run in a specific computing environment, which may be difficult or impossible to match using written instructions. We report the development of continuous analysis, a workflow that enables reproducible computational analyses. Continuous analysis combines Docker, a container technology akin to virtual machines, with continuous integration, a software development technique, to automatically rerun a computational analysis whenever updates or improvements are made to source code or data. This enables researchers to reproduce results without contacting the study authors. Continuous analysis allows reviewers, editors or readers to verify reproducibility without manually downloading and rerunning code and can provide an audit trail for analyses of data that cannot be shared.

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Figure 1: Reporting of Custom CDF file descriptors in published papers.
Figure 2: Research computing versus container-based approaches for differential gene expression analysis of HeLa cells.
Figure 3: Setting up continuous analysis.
Figure 4: Reproducible workflows with continuous analysis.

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Accession codes

Primary accessions

Gene Expression Omnibus

NCBI Reference Sequence

Sequence Read Archive

Referenced accessions

Gene Expression Omnibus


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We would like to thank D. Balli (University of Pennsylvania) for providing the RNA-seq analysis design, K. Siewert (University of Pennsylvania) for providing the phylogenetic analysis design and A. Whan (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization) for contributing a Travis-CI implementation. We also thank M. Paul, Y. Park, G. Way, A. Campbell, J. Taroni and L. Zhou for serving as usability testers during the implementation of continuous analysis. This work was supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation under a Data Driven Discovery Investigator Award to C.S.G. (GBMF 4552). B.K.B.-J. was supported by a Commonwealth Universal Research Enhancement (CURE) Program grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Health and by US National Institutes of Health grants AI116794 and LM010098.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



B.K.B.-J. and C.S.G. conceived the study and designed the solution. B.K.B.-J. implemented continuous analysis. B.K.B.-J. and C.S.G. wrote the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Casey S Greene.

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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Integrated supplementary information

Supplementary Figure 1 Example continuous integration log.

Continuous integration log showing quantification of the abundances of RNA transcripts from RNA-seq data using Kallisto.

Supplementary Figure 2 Example continuous analysis branch workflow.

Code changes are made on development branches. When completed, changes are merged into the staging branch and continuous integration runs. If the continuous integration process succeeds, changes are merged into the master branch and pushed along with regenerated figures and results.

Supplementary Figure 3 Example basic YAML file structure.

Example.yml file structure,choose your Docker image, run tests, perform analysis and then publish results.

Supplementary Figure 4 Consensus phylogenetic tree tracked between two continuous analysis runs.

The effect of adding the HumanTw2 sequence to the constructed phylogenetic tree in two different continuous analysis runs.

Supplementary Figure 5 Principal component analysis plot of kallisto transcript quantification.

The effect of adding an additional organoid derived from pancreatic adenocarcinoma on principal components analysis using Kallisto’s estimated counts.

Supplementary Figure 6 Differential expression analysis before and after adding an additional sample.

A volcano plot plotting the p-value vs. the log fold change. Adding an additional organoid derived from pancreatic adenocarcinoma leads to an additional gene being marked as significantly differentially expressed after Benjamini & Hochberg correction.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Text and Figures

Supplementary Figures 1–6 (PDF 650 kb)

Supplementary Data 1

Top 104 most recent papers citing the manuscript used and the Custom CDF version used. The 104 most recent papers identified using Web of Science on November 14, 2016 that reference the BrainArray manuscript and the version of the Custom CDF that was specified. (PDF 444 kb)

Supplementary Data 2

Top 116 most cited papers citing the manuscript used and the Custom CDF version used. The 116 most cited papers identified using Web of Science on November 14, 2016 that reference the BrainArray manuscript and the version of the Custom CDF that was specified. (PDF 490 kb)

Supplementary Data 3

Complete P values for Custom CDF version 18. (CSV 961 kb)

Supplementary Data 4

Complete P values for Custom CDF version 19. (CSV 966 kb)

Supplementary Data 5

Complete P values for Custom CDF version 20. (CSV 948 kb)

Supplementary Source Code

Continuous analysis source code. This includes template workflows for multiple distinct continuous analysis providers. (ZIP 1345 kb)

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Beaulieu-Jones, B., Greene, C. Reproducibility of computational workflows is automated using continuous analysis. Nat Biotechnol 35, 342–346 (2017).

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