FlowCraft is an assembler of pipelines written in nextflow for analyses of genomic data. The premisse is simple:

Software are container blocks → Build your lego-like pipeline → Execute it (almost) anywhere.

What is Nextflow

If you do not know nextflow, be sure to check it out. It’s an awesome framework based on the dataflow programming model used for building parallelized, scalable and reproducible workflows using software containers. It provides an abstraction layer between the execution and the logic of the pipeline, which means that the same pipeline code can be executed on multiple platforms, from a local laptop to clusters managed with SLURM, SGE, etc. These are quite attractive features since genomic pipelines are increasingly executed on large computer clusters to handle large volumes of data and/or tasks. Moreover, portability and reproducibility are becoming central pillars in modern data science.

What FlowCraft does

FlowCraft is a python engine that automatically builds nextflow pipelines by assembling pre-made ready-to-use components. These components are modular pieces of software or scripts, such as fastqc, trimmomatic, spades, etc, that are written for nextflow and have a set of attributes, such as input and output types, parameters, directives, etc. This modular nature allows them to be freely connected as long as they respect some basic rules, such as the input type of a component must match with the output type of the preceding component. In this way, nextflow processes can be written only once, and FlowCraft is the magic glue that connects them, handling the linking and forking of channels automatically. Moreover, each component is associated with a docker image, which means that there is no need to install any dependencies at all and all software runs on a transparent and reliable box. To illustrate:

  • A linear genome assembly pipeline can be easily built using FlowCraft with the following pipeline string:

    trimmomatic fastqc spades

Which will generate all the necessary files to run the nextflow pipeline on any linux system that has nextflow and a container engine.

  • You can easily add more components to perform assembly polishing, in this case, pilon:

    trimmomatic fastqc spades pilon
  • If a new assembler comes along and you want to switch that component in the pipeline, its as easy as replacing spades (or any other component):

    trimmomatic fastqc skesa pilon
  • And you can also fork the output of a component into multiple ones. For instance, we could annotate the resulting assemblies with multiple software:

    trimmomatic fastqc spades pilon (abricate | prokka)
  • Or fork the execution of a pipeline early on to compare different software:

    trimmomatic fastqc (spades pilon | skesa pilon)

This will fork the output of fastqc into spades and skesa, and the pipeline will proceed independently in these two new ‘lanes’.

  • Directives for each process can be dynamically set when building the pipeline, such as the cpu/RAM usage or the software version:

    trimmomatic={'cpus':'4'} fastqc={'version':'0.11.5'} skesa={'memory':'10GB'} pilon (abricate | prokka)
  • And extra input can be directly inserted in any part of the pipeline. For example, it is possible to assemble genomes from both fastq files and SRR accessions (downloaded from public databases) in a single workflow:

    download_reads trimmomatic={'extra_input':'reads'} fastqc skesa pilon

This pipeline can be executed by providing a file with accession numbers (--accessions parameter by default) and fastq reads, using the --reads parameter defined with the extra_input directive.

Who is FlowCraft for

FlowCraft can be useful for bioinformaticians with varied levels of expertise that need to executed genomic pipelines often and potentially in different platforms. Building and executing pipelines requires no programming knowledge, but familiarization with nextflow is highly recommended to take full advantage of the generated pipelines.

At the moment, the available pre-made processes are mainly focused on bacterial genome assembly simply because that was how we started. However, our goal is to expand the library of existing components to other commonly used tools in the field of genomics and to widen the applicability and usefulness of FlowCraft pipelines.

Why not just write a Nextflow pipeline?

In many cases, building a static nextflow pipeline is sufficient for our goals. However, when building our own pipelines, we often felt the need to add dynamism to this process, particularly if we take into account how fast new tools arise and existing ones change. Our biological goals also change over time and we might need different pipelines to answer different questions. FlowCraft makes this very easy by having a set of pre-made and ready-to-use components that can be freely assembled. By using components (fastqc, trimmomatic) as its atomic elements, very complex pielines that take full advantage of nextflow can be built with little effort. Moreover, these components have explicit and standardized input and output types, which means that the addition of new modules does not require any changes in the existing code base. They just need to take into account how data will be received by the process and how data may be emitted from the process, to ensure that it can link with other components.

However, why not both?

FlowCraft generates a complete Nextflow pipeline file, which ca be used as a starting point for your customized processes!