A Web Tool for Generating High Quality Machine-readable Biological Pathways

J Vis Exp. 2017 Feb 8:(120):54869. doi: 10.3791/54869.


PathWhiz is a web server built to facilitate the creation of colorful, interactive, visually pleasing pathway diagrams that are rich in biological information. The pathways generated by this online application are machine-readable and fully compatible with essentially all web-browsers and computer operating systems. It uses a specially developed, web-enabled pathway drawing interface that permits the selection and placement of different combinations of pre-drawn biological or biochemical entities to depict reactions, interactions, transport processes and binding events. This palette of entities consists of chemical compounds, proteins, nucleic acids, cellular membranes, subcellular structures, tissues, and organs. All of the visual elements in it can be interactively adjusted and customized. Furthermore, because this tool is a web server, all pathways and pathway elements are publicly accessible. This kind of pathway "crowd sourcing" means that PathWhiz already contains a large and rapidly growing collection of previously drawn pathways and pathway elements. Here we describe a protocol for the quick and easy creation of new pathways and the alteration of existing pathways. To further facilitate pathway editing and creation, the tool contains replication and propagation functions. The replication function allows existing pathways to be used as templates to create or edit new pathways. The propagation function allows one to take an existing pathway and automatically propagate it across different species. Pathways created with this tool can be "re-styled" into different formats (KEGG-like or text-book like), colored with different backgrounds, exported to BioPAX, SBGN-ML, SBML, or PWML data exchange formats, and downloaded as PNG or SVG images. The pathways can easily be incorporated into online databases, integrated into presentations, posters or publications, or used exclusively for online visualization and exploration. This protocol has been successfully applied to generate over 2,000 pathway diagrams, which are now found in many online databases including HMDB, DrugBank, SMPDB, and ECMDB.

Publication types

  • Video-Audio Media

MeSH terms

  • Biomedical Research / methods*
  • Databases, Factual
  • Humans
  • Internet*
  • Proteins / chemistry*
  • Software*
  • User-Computer Interface*


  • Proteins