1 Introduction

Quality control (QC) is an essential step in any analytical process. Data of poor quality can at best lead to the absence of positive results or, much worse, false positives that stem from uncaught faulty and noisy data and much wasted resources in pursuing red herrings.

Quality is often a relative concept that depends on the nature of the biological sample, the experimental settings, the analytical process and other factors. Research and development in the area of QC has generally lead to two types of work being disseminated. Firstly, the comparison of samples of variable quality and the identification of metrics that correlate with the quality of the data. These quality metrics could then, in later experiments, be used to assess their quality. Secondly, the design of domain-specific software to facilitate the collection, visualisation and interpretation of various QC metrics is also an area that has seen much development. QC is a prime example where standardisation and automation are of great benefit. While a great variety of QC metrics, software and pipelines have been described for any assay commonly used in modern biology, we present here a different tool for QC, whose main features are flexibility and versatility. The qcmetrics package is a general framework for QC that can accommodate any type of data. It provides a flexible framework to implement QC items that store relevant QC metrics with a specific visualisation mechanism. These individual items can be bundled into higher level QC containers that can be readily used to generate reports in various formats. As a result, it becomes easy to develop complete custom pipelines from scratch and automate the generation of reports. The pipelines can be easily updated to accommodate new QC items of better visualisation techniques.

Section 2 provides an overview of the framework. In section 3, we use proteomics data (subsection 3.2) to demonstrate the elaboration of QC pipelines: how to create individual QC objects, how to bundle them to create sets of QC metrics and how to generate reports in multiple formats. We also show how the above steps can be fully automated through simple wrapper functions. Although kept simple in the interest of time and space, these examples are meaningful and relevant. In section 4, we provide more detail about the report generation process, how reports can be customised and how new exports can be contributed. We proceed in section 4.3 to the consolidation of QC pipelines using R and elaborate on the development of dedicated QC packages with qcmetrics.

2 The QC classes

The package provides two types of QC containers. The QcMetric class stores data and visualisation functions for single metrics. Several such metrics can be bundled into QcMetrics instances, that can be used as input for automated report generation. Below, we will provide a quick overview of how to create respective QcMetric and QcMetrics instances. More details are available in the corresponding documentations.

2.1 The QcMetric class

A QC metric is composed of a description (name in the code chunk below), some QC data (qcdata) and a status that defines if the metric is deemed of acceptable quality (coded as TRUE), bad quality (coded as FALSE) or not yet evaluated (coded as NA). Individual metrics can be displayed as a short textual summary or plotted. To do the former, one can use the default show method.

qc <- QcMetric(name = "A test metric")
qcdata(qc, "x") <- rnorm(100)
qcdata(qc) ## all available qcdata
## [1] "x"
summary(qcdata(qc, "x")) ## get x
##    Min. 1st Qu.  Median    Mean 3rd Qu.    Max. 
## -2.2147 -0.4942  0.1139  0.1089  0.6915  2.4016
show(qc) ## or just qc
## Object of class "QcMetric"
##  Name: A test metric 
##  Status: NA 
##  Data: x
status(qc) <- TRUE
## Object of class "QcMetric"
##  Name: A test metric 
##  Status: TRUE 
##  Data: x

Plotting QcMetric instances requires to implement a plotting method that is relevant to the data at hand. We can use a plot replacement method to define our custom function. The code inside the plot uses qcdata to extract the relevant QC data from object that is then passed as argument to plot and uses the adequate visualisation to present the QC data.

## Warning in x@plot(x, ...): No specific plot function defined
plot(qc) <- function(object, ... ) boxplot(qcdata(object, "x"), ...)

2.2 The QcMetrics class

A QcMetrics object is essentially just a list of individual instances. It is also possible to set a list of metadata variables to describe the source of the QC metrics. The metadata can be passed as an QcMetadata object (the way it is stored in the QcMetrics instance) or directly as a named list. The QcMetadata is itself a list and can be accessed and set with metadata or mdata. When accessed, it is returned and displayed as a list.

qcm <- QcMetrics(qcdata = list(qc))
## Object of class "QcMetrics"
##  containing 1 QC metrics.
##  and no metadata variables.
metadata(qcm) <- list(author = "Prof. Who",
                      lab = "Big lab")
## Object of class "QcMetrics"
##  containing 1 QC metrics.
##  and 2 metadata variables.
## $author
## [1] "Prof. Who"
## $lab
## [1] "Big lab"

The metadata can be updated with the same interface. If new named items are passed, the metadata is updated by addition of the new elements. If a named item is already present, its value gets updated.

metadata(qcm) <- list(author = "Prof. Who",
                      lab = "Cabin lab",
                      University = "Universe-ity")
## $author
## [1] "Prof. Who"
## $lab
## [1] "Cabin lab"
## $University
## [1] "Universe-ity"

The QcMetrics can then be passed to the qcReport method to generate reports, as described in more details below.

3 Creating QC pipelines

3.1 Microarray degradation

The Microarray degradation section has been removed since the packages it was depending on have been deprecated.

3.2 Proteomics raw data

To illustrate a simple QC analysis for proteomics data, we will download data set PXD00001 from the ProteomeXchange repository in the mzXML format (Pedrioli and others 2004). The MS2 spectra from that mass-spectrometry run are then read into Rand stored as an MSnExp experiment using the readMSData function from the MSnbase package (Gatto and Lilley 2012).

msfile <- getPXD000001mzXML()
exp <- readMSData(msfile, verbose = FALSE)

In the interest of time, this code chunk has been pre-computed and a subset (1 in 3) of the exp instance is distributed with the package. The data is loaded with

load(system.file("extdata/exp.rda", package = "qcmetrics"))

The QcMetrics will consist of 3 items, namely a chromatogram constructed with the MS2 spectra precursor’s intensities, a figure illustrating the precursor charges in the MS space and an m/z delta plot illustrating the suitability of MS2 spectra for identification (see ?plotMzDelta or (Foster et al. 2011)).

qc1 <- QcMetric(name = "Chromatogram")
x <- rtime(exp)
y <- precursorIntensity(exp)
o <- order(x)
qcdata(qc1, "x") <- x[o]
qcdata(qc1, "y") <- y[o]
plot(qc1) <- function(object, ...)
    plot(qcdata(object, "x"),
         qcdata(object, "y"),
         col = "darkgrey", type ="l",
         xlab = "retention time",
         ylab = "precursor intensity")
qc2 <- QcMetric(name = "MS space")
qcdata(qc2, "p2d") <- plot2d(exp, z = "charge", plot = FALSE)
plot(qc2) <- function(object) {
    print(qcdata(object, "p2d"))
qc3 <- QcMetric(name = "m/z delta plot")
qcdata(qc3, "pmz") <- plotMzDelta(exp, plot = FALSE,
                                  verbose = FALSE)
plot(qc3) <- function(object)
    suppressWarnings(print(qcdata(object, "pmz")))

Note that we do not store the raw data in any of the above instances, but always pre-compute the necessary data or plots that are then stored as qcdata. If the raw data was to be needed in multiple QcMetric instances, we could re-use the same qcdata environment to avoid unnecessary copies using qcdata(qc2) <- qcenv(qc1) and implement different views through custom plot methods.

Let’s now combine the three items into a QcMetrics object, decorate it with custom metadata using the MIAPE information from the MSnExp object and generate a report.

protqcm <- QcMetrics(qcdata = list(qc1, qc2, qc3))
metadata(protqcm) <- list(
    data = "PXD000001",
    instrument = experimentData(exp)@instrumentModel,
    source = experimentData(exp)@ionSource,
    analyser = experimentData(exp)@analyser,
    detector = experimentData(exp)@detectorType,
    manufacurer = experimentData(exp)@instrumentManufacturer)

The status column of the summary table is empty as we have not set the QC items statuses yet.

qcReport(protqcm, reportname = "protqc")