Machine learning in cell biology - teaching computers to recognize phenotypes

J Cell Sci. 2013 Dec 15;126(Pt 24):5529-39. doi: 10.1242/jcs.123604. Epub 2013 Nov 20.


Recent advances in microscope automation provide new opportunities for high-throughput cell biology, such as image-based screening. High-complex image analysis tasks often make the implementation of static and predefined processing rules a cumbersome effort. Machine-learning methods, instead, seek to use intrinsic data structure, as well as the expert annotations of biologists to infer models that can be used to solve versatile data analysis tasks. Here, we explain how machine-learning methods work and what needs to be considered for their successful application in cell biology. We outline how microscopy images can be converted into a data representation suitable for machine learning, and then introduce various state-of-the-art machine-learning algorithms, highlighting recent applications in image-based screening. Our Commentary aims to provide the biologist with a guide to the application of machine learning to microscopy assays and we therefore include extensive discussion on how to optimize experimental workflow as well as the data analysis pipeline.

Keywords: Bioimage informatics; Computer vision; High-content screening; Machine learning; Microscopy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Artificial Intelligence*
  • Cytological Techniques
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted*
  • Phenotype