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Experience GA4GH Interoperability standards in action

Today is the second day of the 8th plenary meeting of GA4GH, aka the Global Alliance for Genomics & Health, an international collaborative effort that has been driving the development of standards for infrastructure, policy, and security in the genomics field for nearly a decade.

If that first sentence alone makes you roll your eyes and look for the nearest exit, please don’t go just yet — I promise you, you need to hear about this. Especially if you’ve ever grumbled at being pushed toward using cloud computing. (Yes we realize not everyone is 100% thrilled to be here)

Here’s the deal. The standards work that GA4GH is driving is laying the foundations for how you will access data as a researcher, and how you may one day share your own data as a study participant. Importantly, it’s laying those foundations in a way that will empower you to move across many platforms to access data and test your ideas without being locked in by any institution or vendor. It’s also doing so in a way that will protect the rights and privacy of study participants all over the world.

If you have 4 minutes to spare, please watch this short animation video from GA4GH that explains why this is important; why we’re all moving to the cloud, why we need interoperability standards to do so, and how this will enable progress in the life sciences:

Hopefully, you’ll find the scenario described in this video as exciting as I do. The good news is that this bright future is pretty much knocking on our door.

For the past several years, our team and many others at partner institutions have been working hand in hand to develop common standards for how different platforms (including Terra) should connect to each other to pass along information about datasets, analysis tools, researcher identities, and access permissions. All so that we can realize the vision of enabling researchers like you to mine federated datasets — a combination of multiple datasets from different origins, generated and held by different custodians — without needing to deal with endlessly importing and exporting things across platform boundaries.

Today, the interoperability working group is presenting the results of this enormous collaborative endeavor in the Connection Demos breakout session of the plenary meeting. There are three demos planned, demonstrating three different modes of interoperability — Horizontal, Vertical, and Cross-Platform. They’re all very much worth your attention, though I’ll just highlight the Horizontal Connection demo because it involves Terra.

Per the official blurb:

Horizontal Connection Demo: To emphasize the progress of GA4GH in the real world, these demos show reproducibility of analyses run in different environments and portability across analytics workspaces. A GWAS analysis of 1000 Genomes data is replicated across implementations of GA4GH APIs hosted by several organizations—including DNAstack, Terra (Broad Institute/Verily), ELIXIR, and Seven Bridges—implementing GA4GH APIs.”

In practice, this will show step by step how you can access the same data and tools from different platforms and reproduce the analysis to get the same results, demonstrating the portability of the analysis. That’s the part of this whole deal that ensures you won’t get locked into a particular platform; if you start your work on Terra but you decide halfway through that you want to move to Seven Bridges, okay, you can do that. I mean, we’ll be sad, and we’d rather see it happen the other way around, but we won’t judge you. The point is that it’s your research, your choice.

So if you’re able to do so, I invite you to join us in the Connection Demos breakout session at the following times (session repeats to accommodate global timezones):


The GA4GH plenary session overall is free and open to all so don’t hesitate to attend the rest as well!

You’re also welcome to check out the Terra Data Library, which provides access to a variety of datasets including the 1000 Genomes data workspace used in the Connection demo.

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