iSBatch: a batch-processing platform for data analysis and exploration of live-cell single-molecule microscopy images and other hierarchical datasets
Recent technical advances have made it possible to visualize single molecules inside live cells. Microscopes with single-molecule sensitivity enable the imaging of low-abundance proteins, allowing for a quantitative characterization of molecular properties. Such data sets contain information on a wide spectrum of important molecular properties, with different aspects highlighted in different imaging strategies. The time-lapsed acquisition of images provides information on protein dynamics over long time scales, giving insight into expression dynamics and localization properties. Rapid burst imaging reveals properties of individual molecules in real-time, informing on their diffusion characteristics, binding dynamics and stoichiometries within complexes. This richness of information, however, adds significant complexity to analysis protocols. In general, large datasets of images must be collected and processed in order to produce statistically robust results and identify rare events. More importantly, as live-cell single-molecule measurements remain on the cutting edge of imaging, few protocols for analysis have been established and thus analysis strategies often need to be explored for each individual scenario. Existing analysis packages are geared towards either single-cell imaging data or in vitro single-molecule data and typically operate with highly specific algorithms developed for particular situations. Our tool, iSBatch, instead allows users to exploit the inherent flexibility of the popular open-source package ImageJ, providing a hierarchical framework in which existing plugins or custom macros may be executed over entire datasets or portions thereof. This strategy affords users freedom to explore new analysis protocols within large imaging datasets, while maintaining hierarchical relationships between experiments, samples, fields of view, cells, and individual molecules.