This vignette provides instructions on how to load, convert, and save DNA methylation (DNAm) array datasets using the minfi and HDF5Array R packages. These tasks show how to make and work with SummarizedExperiment objects, which are used by DNAm analysis packages such as wateRmelon and ChAMP. More in-depth discussion of DNAm data types and storage formats can be found in the recountmethylation User’s Guide.

1 Obtaining example data

For demonstration and development purposes, we can load the example RGChannelSet data provided in the minfiData package. This load example data generated for the HM450k array platform.

rg.hm450k <- get(data("RGsetEx"))

See the minfiDataEPIC package for similar small example datasets generated from the EPIC array platform.

2 Converting data

2.1 Converting data between platforms

We can convert between HM450K and EPIC array platforms using convertArray() function in the minfi package.

rg.epic <- convertArray(rg.hm450k, "IlluminaHumanMethylationEPIC")

This makes a new digital array object that mimics data generated from the EPIC array, which can be convenient for harmonizing samples across platforms or passing data to functions written for a particular platform.

2.2 Converting data between SummarizedExperiment classes

To convert between and RGChannelSet and other classes, we need to call the functions preprocessRaw() (or some other preprocessing function which returns a MethylSet), and mapToGenome(), which will map a SummarizedExperiment object to the genome coordinates. The latter is useful for genome or annotation-based queries and it may be required by certain normalization and analysis functions.

We can convert the object rg to a GenomicMethylSet using:

ms.hm450k <- preprocessRaw(rg) # make MethylSet
ms.hm450k <- mapToGenome(ms.hm450k) # make GenomicMethylSet 

We can also make new SummarizedExperiment objects manually by specifying the different fields for assays, metadata, experiment details, etc. This is useful when, for instance, we only have a matrix of DNAm signals but we need to pass a valid SummarizedExperiment-type object to an analysis function.

We can make a non-normalized GenomicRatioSet from the object as follows:

gr.hm450k <- GenomicMethylSet(gr = granges(ms.hm450k),
                              Meth = getMeth(ms.hm450k),
                              Unmeth = getUnmeth(ms.hm450k),
                              annotation = annotation(ms.hm450k))

For details about similar constructor functions for different SummarizedExperiment classes, you can consult the function documentation using ?RGChannelSet, ?MethylSet, ?GenomicMethylSet, ?RatioSet, and ?GenomicRatioSet.

2.3 Converting between standard and DelayedArray-backed objects

We can convert a standard matrix-backed SummarizedExperiment object, such as shown above, into a DelayedArray-backed object by first saving with saveHDF5SummarizedExperiment() from the HDF5Array package. This will recast and store the new object in a new directory.

saveHDF5SummarizedExperiment(gr.hm450k, dir = "gr_h5se_new")

We load the new DelayedArray-backed data with loadHDF5SummarizedExperiment(), and this should realize a subset of the data in memory.

gr.h5se <- loadHDF5SummarizedExperiment(dir = "gr_h5se_new")

Now the table returned from running getBeta(gr.h5se) or getM(gr.h5se) inherits from classes DelayedArray and DelayedMatrix.

2.4 Choosing the correct data type to use

The compiled DNAm array data in recountmethylation covers three formats (rg, gm, and gr) and 2 storage formats (HDF5 and DelayedArray). In general, R users will want to use the DelayedArray-backed object formats. These appear as directories with h5se in their name containing a large assays file and a smaller metadata file. Users of Python and other programming languages besides R will likely prefer to use the HDF5 database files, which have h5 in their names.

3 Saving data

3.1 Saving flat tables from DNAm array datasets

We can extract flat tables of the assays or sample metadata from either matrix-backed or DelayedArray-backed SummarizedExperiment objects. The specific functions will depend on the specific data format, but in general you can think of the assays data such as the Red channel signal or Beta-values matrix as the main dataset of CpG probes (rows) and samples (columns).

For this main DNAm signals dataset, the rowData and annotations obtainable from getAnnotation contain the probe-level metadata including manifest-based annotations and genome locations. By contrast, the colData or pData matrix contains the sample-level metadata, which may include information such as demographic information, tissue type, disease condition, and more.

We can extract the individual flat files and save these as R binary files as follows:

# get flat files
m.beta <- getBeta(gr.h5se)
anno <-
coldata <-
# save flat files
save(m.beta, file = "mbeta_new.rda")
save(anno, file = "anno_new.rda")
save(coldata, file = "coldata_new.rda")

To instead write flat files to new tables such as .csv files, we can use one of the following:

write.table(m.beta, file = "mbeta_new.txt")
write.csv(m.beta, file = "mbeta_new.csv")
data.table::fwrite(m.beta, file = "mbeta_new.txt")

It will generally take longer to write to a new flat table (e.g. file with .csv or .txt extension) than to a binary file (e.g. file with .rda extension), and the time difference will increase with the size of the dataset being saved. Functions such as fread and fwrite from the data.table package work similar to the base R functions including read.csv and write.csv, but they can be many times faster. They are recommended when working with larger datasets, such as is likely encountered when working with the recountmethylation data compilations.

3.2 Saving SummarizedExperiment objects

Standard matrix-backed SummarizedExperiment objects, such as RGChannelSets, MethylSets, and GenomicRatioSets, can all be saved like standard R objects.

save(rg, file = "rg_new.rda")
save(gm, file = "gm_new.rda")
save(gr, file = "gr_new.rda")

3.3 Saving DelayedArray-backed objects

When working with full-sized compilation files, you may find the dataset directory for an h5se of interest already exists and you simply want to update it. These update operations could include subsetting the samples or probes in the compilation, or adding new metadata columns. In these cases, repeatedly saving the DelayedArray-backed datasets with saveHDF5SummarizedExperiment() is very time-consuming and not necessary. Instead, use quickResaveHDF5SummarizedExperiment() like so:

rg.h5se <- rg.h5se[seq(1000),] # subset the h5se object
quickResaveHDF5SummarizedExperiment(rg.h5se) # rapidly update stored file

In general, you will only need to use saveHDF5SummarizedExperiment() when saving a brand new DelayedArray-backed object.

4 Conclusions

We have seen how to load, convert, and save DNAm array datasets using functions from minfi and HDF5Array, with runnable examples using an example RGChannelSet.

For more in-depth discussion of the compilations, data classes, and storage formats, see: