J. Biomedical Science and Engineering, 2011, 4, 523-528
doi:10.4236/jbise.2011.48067 Published Online August 2011 (http://www.SciRP.org/journal/jbise/
Published Online August 2011 in SciRes. http://www.scirp.org/journal/JBiSE
Automatic DNA sequencing for electrophoresis gels using
image processing algorithms
Jiann-Der Lee1, Chung-Hsien Huang1, Neng-Wei Wang1, Chin-Song Lu2
1Department of Electrical Engineering, Chang Gung University, Tao-Yuan, Taiwan, China;
2Department of Neurology, Chang Gung Memory Hospital, Tao-Yuan, Taiwan, China.
Email: jdlee@mail.cgu.edu.tw
Received 14 November 2010; revised 25 December 2010; accepted 20 January 2011.
DNA electrophoresis gel is an important biologically
experimental technique and DNA sequencing can be
defined by it. Traditionally, it is time consuming for
biologists to exam the gel images by their eyes and
often has human errors during the process. There-
fore, automatic analysis of the gel image could pro-
vide more information that is usually ignored by
human expert. However, basic tasks such as the iden-
tification of lanes in a gel image, easily done by hu-
man experts, emerge as problems that may be diffi-
cult to be executed automatically. In this paper, we
design an automatic procedure to analyze DNA gel
images using various image processing algorithms.
Firstly, we employ an enhanced fuzzy c-means algo-
rithm to extract the useful information from DNA gel
images and exclude the undesired background. Then,
Gaussian function is utilized to estimate the location
of each lane of A, T, C, and G on the gels images
automatically. Finally, the location of each band on
the gel image can be detected accurately by tracing
lanes, renewing lost bands, and eliminating repetitive
Keywords: DNA Sequencing; Fuzzy C-means Algorithm
DNA sequencing, one of the most important subjects of
genetic engineering, locates the nucleotide base queues
of DNA depended on all the living things such as crea-
tures, plants and bacteria [1-3]. It gives a way for people
to reveal the law of heredity and genetic mutations from
the viewpoint of molecular and to illustrate the relation-
ship between genetic codes and biological makeup and
phenotype. Furthermore, by organizing the gene bank
and recombining the gene, it provides an approach to
deal with certain types of incurable diseases.
The gel electrophoresis exam consists of breaking a
molecule into many fragments by the action of specific
enzymes. These fragments are dispersed on a medium of
polyacrylamide or agarose gel to which an electric field
is applied. Each fragment has distinct electric charge and
molecules weight, causing them to be displaced at
different rates through the gel. After a period of time, the
process is interrupted and the gel is stained so that it
becomes possible to observe where the molecules stopped.
Each stripe in the pattern is called a band. The set of
bands generated by a single sample is called a lane. By
analy- zing the DNA of a sample, it is possible to find
similar genetic patterns, which may give support to the
inclusion of an individual into a group of known features.
The comparison between an unknown individual and
already-known groups are achieved by submitting the
DNA of individuals from each group to the same pro-
To make the analysis of DNA gel images more effi-
cient and effective, digital image processing techniques
are introduced to analyze the gel images. Firstly, the gel
photographs, which are the half-products of laboratory
experiments and contains DNA sequence, would be
scanned into digital images. Secondly, after performing
image analysis and pattern recognition by computers, we
could obtain the digital result-DNA nucleotide chain
codes. Furthermore, the sequencing data of DNA are
transferred into the storage device for future sorting and
An automatic analysis system for the gel image could
enable the evaluation of many parameters that are usu-
ally ignored by human expert [4]. However, basic tasks
such as the identification of lanes in a gel image, easily
done by human experts, emerge as problems that may be
difficult to be performed automatically. In this paper, we
design an automatic method for DNA sequencing in the
gel images. Firstly, we use an enhanced fuzzy c-means
algorithm to extract the helpful information from DNA
gel image and exclude the unnecessary background.
J.-D. Lee et al. / J. Biomedical Science and Engineering 4 (2011) 523-528
Secondly, Gaussian function is utilized to estimate the
location of each lane of A, T, C, and G on the gels im-
ages automatically. Finally, the location of each band on
the gel image can be detected accurately by tracing lanes,
finding lost bands and eliminating repetitive bands.
The whole flowchart of the proposed DNA gel image-
processing scheme is illustrated as Figure 1. In short,
there are three main procedures, i.e., Enhanced-FCM,
lane detection, and band detection, used in our approach.
Firstly, the digital DNA gel image, a format of JPEG file,
is scanned from the gel electrophoresis photograph.
Then, an algorithm for image segmentation named en-
hanced fuzzy c-means, which improves the traditional
fuzzy c-means, is used to separate background and fore-
ground from gel image. The foreground includes A, T, C,
and G lanes, while the background includes blurred
noise needed to be removed.
The next procedure named lane detection is used to
detect each lane of A, T, C, and G on the gel image. A
profile of the image intensity’s summation can be ob-
tained by the Y-projection, and Gaussian function can be
used to model this profile, detecting each lane from it.
The traditional method identifying each band on lanes is
to trace the possible bands along the lane where peaks of
image intensity are the locations of bands. In order to
identify each band more accurately, some strategies in-
cluded renewing lost bands and eliminating repetitive
bands are applied.
2.1. Image Segmentation by the Enhanced Fuzzy
C-Means Algorithm
In general, the imaging uncertainty is widely presented
in the gel images, because of the noise in acquisition.
Especially, the borders between bands and background
are ambiguous and blurred. In this case, if we used a
DNA Gel Image
Lane Detection
Band Detection
DNA Sequence
Figure 1. The flowchart of
DNA gel image process.
hard segmentation such as thresholding, it may lose
some important information. Therefore, fuzzy c-means
algorithm (FCM), a kind of soft segmentation method,
allows pixels belong to multiple classes with varying
degrees of membership. It is well known that the fuzzy
c-means methods possess the following advantages:
a) It is unsupervised;
b) It suits to any number of features and classes;
c) The membership values of FCM distributed in a
normalization manner.
With these superior characteristics, FCM algorithms
attracted the researcher’s attentions and are widely ap-
plied to a number of problems involving feature analysis,
clustering and classifier design. FCM is often used to
image segmentation problem and has fine results [5-7].
It is a completely unsupervised method and convergence
repeatedly, in order to find the optimum solution. The
FCM algorithm, via fuzzy pixel classification, allows
pixels belong to multiple classes with varying degrees of
membership. The FCM algorithm for scalar data seeks
the membership function uk(i,j), Eq.1, and the centroids vk,
Eq.2, such that the objective function shown as Eq.3 is
ij nk
 (1)
xij v
xij v
ij n
where uk(i,j) is the membership value of the pixel (i,j) in
the k-th class, vk is the centroid of k-th class, and q is a
weighting exponent on each fuzzy membership and it
determines the amount of “fuzziness” of the resulting
classification.By calculating Eq.2 and Eq.3 repeatedly,
the objective value
CM is converged on a static
minimum by the way of the expectably accuracy with a
preset threshold value. When the variation of
CM is
smaller than this threshold value, the process is termi-
nated and the last
,kij and k are then used as the
constraint parameters for segmentation.
u v
Generally, the traditional FCM chooses gray level of
pixels in the image to be feature space. In accordance
with the distribution of image’s histogram, the FCM
only considers the image intensity, but not the spatial
relationship between a pixel and its neighbors. Therefore,
FCM has weak resistance of various noises from the
working environment. To overcome the weakness of
traditional FCM, we propose a novel enhanced-FCM
opyright © 2011 SciRes. JBiSE
J.-D. Lee et al. / J. Biomedical Science and Engineering 4 (2011) 523-528 525
method to increase the segmentation performance of gel
images. More specifically, a filter mask to represent the
spatial relationship of pixel and its neighbors is em-
ployed in the converging process of FCM to achieve a
more satisfied segmented result than previous FCM
In the enhanced-FCM algorithm,
,kij is the mem-
bership value of the pixel (i,j) in the k-th class. And
xij v denotes the distance or the variation
degree between the pixel x(i,j) and the centroid of k- th
class. Based on the reasonable concept that a candidate
boundary pixel must have some degree of correlation
with its neighbor pixels, we design a filter mask to rede-
fine this pixel’s feature U as below
 
12 9
1, 1, 11, 1
12 9
ki jkijki j
wuw uw u
Uww w
 
Next, the new distance between a pixel and the cen-
troid of a class is replaced with Eq.5
 
where p is a modulated parameter ranging from 0 to 1. It
is noted that, when p = 0,
 and Eq.5 becomes
the original FCM algorithm. That is, traditional FCM is
a special case of Enhanced-FCM. In addition, it is obvi-
ous that a large p denotes that the neighbor pixels have
higher correlations with the center pixel. Therefore, we
put the new distance function, Eq.5, in the traditional
FCM algorithm equations, Eq.1 and Eq.2, to replace the
Euclidean distance function and run the same iterative
calculation as FCM algorithm.
The background and foreground can be separated by
the Enhanced-FCM more effective and accurate than by
a general segmentation method such as thresholding.
Therefore, the unnecessary information of gel image can
be reduced, and the follow-up steps can be handled eas-
ily. Figure 2 is the scanned gel image, and Figure 3 is
the result of original image after using the proposed En-
2.2. Lane Detection by the Gaussian Function
In order to determine the position of each lane, we de-
sign an automated method with the aid of Gaussian
function. The method finds the modes of a critically
smoothed kernel estimator of the profile of the image
projection. The kernel estimator is a nonpara-
metric estimator of the probability density function of a
data set and is defined by Eq.6.
px G
where G is the Gaussian function with zero mean and
variance of one, and H is the height of image. The vari-
able w is called the bandwidth parameter. Larger values
of w result in a smoother estimator of the density func-
tion, while smaller values result in a sharper one [8]. By
starting with a large value of w and reducing it, we can
get a suitable mode of the estimator with an increasing
number of modes (in this case, modes number equals to
4 because there are four lanes, A, T, C and G.). The most
suitable w can be calculated by the following steps.
1) Set a lower bound value w0 of w and an upper
bound value w1;
2) Compute kernel estimator with w = (w0 + w1)/2,
and count the number of modes n;
3) If (n < 4), then set w1 = w, and go to step 2
else if (n > 4), then set w0 = w, and go to step 2
else, then go to step 4;
4) Use the location of modes as the 4 lanes of A, T, C,
and G.
Figure 2. DNA gel image.
Figure 3. The fuzzy maps of gel image. (a) Background; (b)
opyright © 2011 SciRes. JBiSE
J.-D. Lee et al. / J. Biomedical Science and Engineering 4 (2011) 523-528
Copyright © 2011 SciRes.
Figure 4 illustrates the characteristic curve of estima-
tor p(x) at different value w. More specifically, Figure
4(a) is the Y-projection of the original image. Figure 4
(b) is the estimator p(x) with w = 5 and we observe that
it has five peaks in this curve. Figure 4 (c) is the esti-
mator p(x) with w = 15 and it has three peaks. Further-
more, (d) is the estimator p(x) the p(x) with w = 10 and it
has four peaks corresponding to four lanes, A, T, G, and
C. Figure 5 is the result of lane detection.
lane can transform the lane into a sequence of gray lev-
els that can be assimilated to a one-dimensional temporal
signal. Detecting each signal of ATCG lanes, the peaks
should be the centroids of bands. Figure 6 illustrates the
band detection by tracing the ATGC lanes.
However, some bands named lost band, can’t be found
as the ellipse (a) of Figure 7 or some noise is considered
as a band named repetitive band, as the ellipse (b) of Fig-
ure 7. In order to renew the lost bands and eliminate the
repetitive bands, we propose an algorithm with an intelli-
gent decision rule to judge where is the mistake occurring.
The steps of this algorithm are presented as follows.
2.3. Band Detection
After the process of lane detection, tracing along each
(a) (b)
(c) (d)
Figure 4. The estimators of the lane projection with various w. (a) The projection of original image; (b) w = 5; (c) w = 15; (d) w = 10.
Figure 5. The result after performing lane detection. Figure 6. Band detection by tracing ATCG lanes.
J.-D. Lee et al. / J. Biomedical Science and Engineering 4 (2011) 523-528 527
1) Find the set D of distances (d1 = l2 l1, d2 = l3 l2
) between two neighbor bands, the interval of two
neighbor white lines (l1, l2, l3,, ln) is shown in Figure
2) Find the median dm of D;
3) For i 1 to n – 1,
if (di > α*dm), then go to step 4,
else if (di < β*dm), then go to step 5;
4) Add a band in the interval of di and di+1;
5) Comparing the pixel intensity and the dark area of
bands li and li+1, the worst one will be eliminated.
Here, we set α = 1.5 and β = 0.5. Figure 8 is the result
of band detection after renewing lost bands and elimi-
nating repetitive bands.
Figure 7. Two circumstances of error detection: (a) lost bands;
(b) repetitive bands.
Figure 8. The result of band detection after renewing lost
bands and eliminating repetitive bands.
To evaluate the performance of our algorithm, a set of
gel images is used in the experiments and the results are
shown in Tables 1 and 2, respectively. That is, Tables 1
and 2 summarize the results of processing 10 gel images
obtained from the Department of Neurology, Chang
Gung Memory Hospital. There are 22 to 74 bands in
each image. Firstly, every band in the images is identi-
fied manually. Then the results obtained by the proposed
method are compared with manual results. More spe-
cifically, the results illustrated in Table 1 are segmented
by Otsu’s thresholding method and the results shown as
Table 2 are segmented by Enhanced-FCM. The “Cor-
rection” means band detection with renewing lost bands
(l) and eliminating repetitive bands (
). These two
tables reveal that Enhanced-FCM is more suitable than
thresholding segmentation, and band detection can cor-
rect some mistakes accurately.
Table 1. The results obtained with Otsu’s thresholding method.
Before Correction After Correction
1(50) 0 9 0 9 18%
2(22) 0 4 0 3 13.6%
3(27) 1 3 1 3 14.8%
4(55) 1 8 0 7 12.7%
5(29) 0 8 1 7 27.6%
6(66) 1 16 1 3 6%
7(38) 1 7 1 5 15.8%
8(40) 0 6 0 5 12.5%
9(55) 2 8 0 4 7%
10(40) 5 4 4 1 12.5%
Total(430)11 73 8 47 12.8%
Table 2. The results obtained with Enhanced-FCM.
Before Correction After Correction
1(50) 1 5 0 1 2%
2(22) 0 3 0 2 9.1%
3(27) 0 3 0 3 11%
4(55) 2 7 0 1 1.9%
5(29) 0 7 0 6 20.7%
6(74) 1 11 1 1 2.7%
7(38) 1 8 1 4 13%
8(40) 0 6 0 4 10%
9(55) 8 4 3 1 7.3%
10(40) 6 2 1 0 2.5%
Total(430)19 56 6 23 6.7%
opyright © 2011 SciRes. JBiSE
J.-D. Lee et al. / J. Biomedical Science and Engineering 4 (2011) 523-528
Copyright © 2011 SciRes.
In this approach, we have proposed a scheme for the gel
image analysis which includes an efficient segmentation
method named Enhanced-FCM, lane detection utilizing
Gaussian function, and band detection by tracing each
lane, renewing lost bands and eliminating repetitive
bands. Here, Enhanced-FCM, which improves the tradi-
tional fuzzy c-means is used to separate background and
foreground from gel image. Then, lane detection is used
to detect each lane of A, T, C, and G on the gel image. A
profile of the image intensity’s summation can be ob-
tained by the Y-projection of the origin image, and
Gaussian function can be used to model this profile and
detect each lane from it. Furthermore, in order to iden-
tify each band belonging to each lane more accurately,
some strategies included renewing lost bands and elimi-
nating repetitive bands are also presented.
[1] Griffiths, A.J.F., Miller, J.M. and Suzuki, D.T. (2000) An
introduction to genetic analysis. WH Freeman & Co.,
New York.
[2] Moore, S.M. (2000) Understanding human genome.
IEEE Spectrum, 37, 33-35. doi:10.1109/6.880951
[3] Patel, D. (1994) Gel electrophoresis: Essential data.
Wiley, New York.
[4] Umesh, P.S. and Flint, J. (2003) An efficient tool for
genetic experiments: Agarose gel image analysis. Pattern
Recognition, 36, 2453-2461.
[5] Lim, Y.W. and Lee, S.U. (1990) On the color image seg-
mentation algorithm based on the thresholding and the
fuzzy c-means techniques. Pattern Recognition, 23, 935-
952. doi:10.1016/0031-3203(90)90103-R
[6] Suckling, J., Sigmundsson, T., Greenwood, K. and Bull-
more, E.T. (1999) A modified fuzzy clustering algorithm
for operator independent brain tissue classification of
dual echo MR images. Magnetic Resonance Imaging, 17,
1065-1076. doi:10.1016/S0730-725X(99)00055-7
[7] Phillips, W.E., Velthuizen, R.P., Phuphanich, S., Hall,
L.O., Clarke, L.P. and Silbiger, M.L. (1995) Application
of fuzzy c-means segmentation technique for differentia-
tion in MR images of a hemorrhagic glioblastoma multi-
forme. Magnetic Resonance Imaging, 13, 277-290.