Linear vs Circular – data visualization for plasmids

If you conduct a google image search for “plasmid map” 99% of the results will show a circular map. And that is also what I would expect – but why is that so? Throughout my scientific career I have been trained to expect the virtual expectation to match the nanoscale – plasmids are circular structures of DNA – so we depict them as such. But is that the best way?

To me this seems inaccurate and inefficient to me in many ways by now.

  • First, if I could actually look at my plasmid it would likely be coiled up like a telephone cord, and nowhere near this perfect circle. 
  • Second, drawing a circle takes up a bunch of real estate on paper or the screen – worst of all 90% is usually “backbone” so parts you take for granted and care about only to select the right anti-biotic resistance marker. 
  • So that leads to point number three – we have zoom in every time we want to get to the important part of the map – the insert. Why is that so? Wouldn’t I want to see the most important part of construct in the overview?

We abstract away in all other aspects of visualization – zoom in of an organelle vs the entire cell, data trends vs tables, etc. Why not do the same for plasmids?
So what do you think – is the circular image easier to look at and understand, or the linear one?

Linear, condensed view of pET26b with inserts
Linear, condensed view of pET26b with inserts

Linear, extended view of pET26b with inserts
Linear, extended view of pET26b with inserts

Traditional view of pET26b
Traditional plasmid view of pET26b

Comment on the post or on our social media channels to let us know what you think!

By Cornelia Scheitz
Malte Tinnus

Malte Tinnus is a Senior Principal UX Designer at Autodesk Life Sciences, collaborating with world leading researchers to envision the paradigms and tools needed to understand and exploit the intersection of design and life.

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