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BMC Bioinformatics. 2014;15 Suppl 11:S12. doi: 10.1186/1471-2105-15-S11-S12. Epub 2014 Oct 21.

Haystack, a web-based tool for metabolomics research.



Liquid chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry (LCMS) has become a widely used technique in metabolomics research for differential profiling, the broad screening of biomolecular constituents across multiple samples to diagnose phenotypic differences and elucidate relevant features. However, a significant limitation in LCMS-based metabolomics is the high-throughput data processing required for robust statistical analysis and data modeling for large numbers of samples with hundreds of unique chemical species.


To address this problem, we developed Haystack, a web-based tool designed to visualize, parse, filter, and extract significant features from LCMS datasets rapidly and efficiently. Haystack runs in a browser environment with an intuitive graphical user interface that provides both display and data processing options. Total ion chromatograms (TICs) and base peak chromatograms (BPCs) are automatically displayed, along with time-resolved mass spectra and extracted ion chromatograms (EICs) over any mass range. Output files in the common .csv format can be saved for further statistical analysis or customized graphing. Haystack's core function is a flexible binning procedure that converts the mass dimension of the chromatogram into a set of interval variables that can uniquely identify a sample. Binned mass data can be analyzed by exploratory methods such as principal component analysis (PCA) to model class assignment and identify discriminatory features. The validity of this approach is demonstrated by comparison of a dataset from plants grown at two light conditions with manual and automated peak detection methods. Haystack successfully predicted class assignment based on PCA and cluster analysis, and identified discriminatory features based on analysis of EICs of significant bins.


Haystack, a new online tool for rapid processing and analysis of LCMS-based metabolomics data is described. It offers users a range of data visualization options and supports non-biased differential profiling studies through a unique and flexible binning function that provides an alternative to conventional peak deconvolution analysis methods.

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