Background: Publicly available DNA sequence databases such as GenBank are large, and are
growing at an exponential rate. The sheer volume of data being dealt with presents serious storage
and data communications problems. Currently, sequence data is usually kept in large "flat files,"
which are then compressed using standard Lempel-Ziv (gzip) compression – an approach which
rarely achieves good compression ratios. While much research has been done on compressing
individual DNA sequences, surprisingly little has focused on the compression of entire databases
of such sequences. In this study we introduce the sequence database compression software coil.
Results: We have designed and implemented a portable software package, coil, for compressing
and decompressing DNA sequence databases based on the idea of edit-tree coding. coil is geared
towards achieving high compression ratios at the expense of execution time and memory usage
during compression – the compression time represents a "one-off investment" whose cost is
quickly amortised if the resulting compressed file is transmitted many times. Decompression
requires little memory and is extremely fast. We demonstrate a 5% improvement in compression
ratio over state-of-the-art general-purpose compression tools for a large GenBank database file
containing Expressed Sequence Tag (EST) data. Finally, coil can efficiently encode incremental
additions to a sequence database.
Conclusion: coil presents a compelling alternative to conventional compression of flat files for the
storage and distribution of DNA sequence databases having a narrow distribution of sequence
lengths, such as EST data. Increasing compression levels for databases having a wide distribution of
sequence lengths is a direction for future work.
White, W. T. J., & Hendy, M. D. (2008). Compressing DNA sequence databases with coil. Bmc Bioinformatics, 9. doi: 10.1186/1471-2105-9-242