Thomas Van Parys

Thomas Van Parys — Staff
Joined the group in 2007

As a software engineer, I find myself very much at the 'informatics' side of 'bioinformatics'.
Over the wide range of projects I've been involved in, often at the visualization side of things, my programming language of choice is still Java, eg. for the Cytoscape Apps I have been developing or for the contributions to the early versions of GenomeView. For quick parsers and scripts, I turn to Python and Bash/Zsh, although I still often get excited about new tools and languages.

For web development, I've been using the CakePHP (+JQuery) MVC framework for webtool projects of different sizes (eg. Orcae, hfAIM, ...) and Drupal for CMS websites (like the one you're looking at right now).

As part of my sysadmin duties I maintain our local Apache webserver(s) and MySQL databases.
Being an avid GNU/Linux (Fedora) user and offering IT support to this group did make me into a zealous proponent of Linux on the desktop and git code versioning.
And Emacs of course. Don't forget Emacs.

Birthdate: 19 November 1980, Gent, Belgium.

Working experience

  • 2012 : Software development at BEG (VIB / Ghent University)
  • 2011 - 2012: Visiting scientist at FMG (University of Pretoria)
  • 2007 - 2011: Software development at BEG (VIB / Ghent University)
  • 2005 - 2007: Webmaster HiPEAC (ELIS - Ghent University)


  • 2003 - 2005: Master Computer Sciences (Software Development) at Ghent University
  • 1999 - 2003: Industrial Engineering (IT) at Hogeschool Gent


  1. Melckenbeeck, I., Audenaert, P., Van Parys, T., Van de Peer, Y., Colle, D., & Pickavet, M. (2019). Optimising orbit counting of arbitrary order by equation selection. BMC BIOINFORMATICS, 20.
    Background: Graphlets are useful for bioinformatics network analysis. Based on the structure of Hočevar and Demšar’s ORCA algorithm, we have created an orbit counting algorithm, named Jesse. This algorithm, like ORCA, uses equations to count the orbits, but unlike ORCA it can count graphlets of any order. To do so, it generates the required internal structures and equations automatically. Many more redundant equations are generated, however, and Jesse’s running time is highly dependent on which of these equations are used. Therefore, this paper aims to investigate which equations are most efficient, and which factors have an effect on this efficiency. Results: With appropriate equation selection, Jesse’s running time may be reduced by a factor of up to 2 in the best case, compared to using randomly selected equations. Which equations are most efficient depends on the density of the graph, but barely on the graph type. At low graph density, equations with terms in their right-hand side with few arguments are more efficient, whereas at high density, equations with terms with many arguments in the right-hand side are most efficient. At a density between 0.6 and 0.7, both types of equations are about equally efficient. Conclusions: Our Jesse algorithm became up to a factor 2 more efficient, by automatically selecting the best equations based on graph density. It was adapted into a Cytoscape App that is freely available from the Cytoscape App Store to ease application by bioinformaticians.
  2. Willems, P., Horne, A., Van Parys, T., Goormachtig, S., De Smet, I., Botzki, A., … Gevaert, K. (2019). The Plant PTM Viewer, a central resource for exploring plant protein modifications. PLANT JOURNAL, 99(4), 752–762.
    Posttranslational modifications (PTMs) of proteins are central in any kind of cellular signaling. Modern mass spectrometry technologies enable comprehensive identification and quantification of various PTMs. Given the increased numbers and types of mapped protein modifications, a database is necessary that simultaneously integrates and compares site‐specific information for different PTMs, especially in plants for which the available PTM data are poorly catalogued. Here, we present the Plant PTM Viewer (, an integrative PTM resource that comprises approximately 370,000 PTM sites for 19 types of protein modifications in plant proteins from five different species. The Plant PTM Viewer provides the user with a protein sequence overview in which the experimentally evidenced PTMs are highlighted together with an estimate of the confidence by which the modified peptides and, if possible, the actual modification sites were identified and with functional protein domains or active site residues. The PTM sequence search tool can query PTM combinations in specific protein sequences, whereas the PTM BLAST tool searches for modified protein sequences to detect conserved PTMs in homologous sequences. Taken together, these tools help to assume the role and potential interplay of PTMs in specific proteins or within a broader systems biology context. The Plant PTM Viewer is an open repository that allows the submission of mass spectrometry‐based PTM data to remain at pace with future PTM plant studies.
  3. Zwaenepoel, A., Diels, T., Amar, D., Van Parys, T., Shamir, R., Van de Peer, Y., & Tzfadia, O. (2018). MorphDB : prioritizing genes for specialized metabolism pathways and gene ontology categories in plants. FRONTIERS IN PLANT SCIENCE, 9.
    Recent times have seen an enormous growth of "omics" data, of which high-throughput gene expression data are arguably the most important from a functional perspective. Despite huge improvements in computational techniques for the functional classification of gene sequences, common similarity-based methods often fall short of providing full and reliable functional information. Recently, the combination of comparative genomics with approaches in functional genomics has received considerable interest for gene function analysis, leveraging both gene expression based guilt-by-association methods and annotation efforts in closely related model organisms. Besides the identification of missing genes in pathways, these methods also typically enable the discovery of biological regulators (i.e., transcription factors or signaling genes). A previously built guilt-by-association method is MORPH, which was proven to be an efficient algorithm that performs particularly well in identifying and prioritizing missing genes in plant metabolic pathways. Here, we present MorphDB, a resource where MORPH-based candidate genes for large-scale functional annotations (Gene Ontology, MapMan bins) are integrated across multiple plant species. Besides a gene centric query utility, we present a comparative network approach that enables researchers to efficiently browse MORPH predictions across functional gene sets and species, facilitating efficient gene discovery and candidate gene prioritization. MorphDB is available at We also provide a toolkit, named "MORPH bulk" (, for running MORPH in bulk mode on novel data sets, enabling researchers to apply MORPH to their own species of interest.
  4. Van Parys, T., Melckenbeeck, I., Houbraken, M., Audenaert, P., Colle, D., Pickavet, M., … Van de Peer, Y. (2017). A Cytoscape app for motif enumeration with ISMAGS. BIOINFORMATICS, 33(3), 461–463.
    We present a Cytoscape app for the ISMAGS algorithm, which can enumerate all instances of a motif in a graph, making optimal use of the motif's symmetries to make the search more efficient. The Cytoscape app provides a handy interface for this algorithm, which allows more efficient network analysis.
  5. Van Landeghem, S., Van Parys, T., Dubois, M., Inzé, D., & Van de Peer, Y. (2016). Diffany: an ontology-driven framework to infer, visualise and analyse differential molecular networks. BMC BIOINFORMATICS, 17.
    Background: Differential networks have recently been introduced as a powerful way to study the dynamic rewiring capabilities of an interactome in response to changing environmental conditions or stimuli. Currently, such differential networks are generated and visualised using ad hoc methods, and are often limited to the analysis of only one condition-specific response or one interaction type at a time. Results: In this work, we present a generic, ontology-driven framework to infer, visualise and analyse an arbitrary set of condition-specific responses against one reference network. To this end, we have implemented novel ontology-based algorithms that can process highly heterogeneous networks, accounting for both physical interactions and regulatory associations, symmetric and directed edges, edge weights and negation. We propose this integrative framework as a standardised methodology that allows a unified view on differential networks and promotes comparability between differential network studies. As an illustrative application, we demonstrate its usefulness on a plant abiotic stress study and we experimentally confirmed a predicted regulator. Availability: Diffany is freely available as open-source java library and Cytoscape plugin from
  6. Xie, Q., Tzfadia, O., Levy, M., Weithorn, E., Peled-Zehavi, H., Van Parys, T., … Galili, G. (2016). hfAIM: a reliable bioinformatics approach for in silico genome-wide identification of autophagy-associated Atg8-interacting motifs in various organisms. AUTOPHAGY, 12(5), 876–887.
    Most of the proteins that are specifically turned over by selective autophagy are recognized by the presence of short Atg8 interacting motifs (AIMs) that facilitate their association with the autophagy apparatus. Such AIMs can be identified by bioinformatics methods based on their defined degenerate consensus F/W/Y-X-X-L/I/V sequences in which X represents any amino acid. Achieving reliability and/or fidelity of the prediction of such AIMs on a genome-wide scale represents a major challenge. Here, we present a bioinformatics approach, high fidelity AIM (hfAIM), which uses additional sequence requirementsthe presence of acidic amino acids and the absence of positively charged amino acids in certain positionsto reliably identify AIMs in proteins. We demonstrate that the use of the hfAIM method allows for in silico high fidelity prediction of AIMs in AIM-containing proteins (ACPs) on a genome-wide scale in various organisms. Furthermore, by using hfAIM to identify putative AIMs in the Arabidopsis proteome, we illustrate a potential contribution of selective autophagy to various biological processes. More specifically, we identified 9 peroxisomal PEX proteins that contain hfAIM motifs, among which AtPEX1, AtPEX6 and AtPEX10 possess evolutionary-conserved AIMs. Bimolecular fluorescence complementation (BiFC) results verified that AtPEX6 and AtPEX10 indeed interact with Atg8 in planta. In addition, we show that mutations occurring within or nearby hfAIMs in PEX1, PEX6 and PEX10 caused defects in the growth and development of various organisms. Taken together, the above results suggest that the hfAIM tool can be used to effectively perform genome-wide in silico screens of proteins that are potentially regulated by selective autophagy. The hfAIM system is a web tool that can be accessed at link:
  7. Artaza, H., Chue Hong, N., Corpas, M., Corpuz, A., Hooft, R., Jiménez, R. C., … Vaughan, D. (2016). Top 10 metrics for life science software good practices. F1000RESEARCH, 5.
    Metrics for assessing adoption of good development practices are a useful way to ensure that software is sustainable, reusable and functional. Sustainability means that the software used today will be available - and continue to be improved and supported - in the future. We report here an initial set of metrics that measure good practices in software development. This initiative differs from previously developed efforts in being a community-driven grassroots approach where experts from different organisations propose good software practices that have reasonable potential to be adopted by the communities they represent. We not only focus our efforts on understanding and prioritising good practices, we assess their feasibility for implementation and publish them here.
  8. Vermeirssen, V., De Clercq, I., Van Parys, T., Van Breusegem, F., & Van de Peer, Y. (2014). Arabidopsis ensemble reverse-engineered gene regulatory network discloses interconnected transcription factors in oxidative stress. PLANT CELL, 26(12), 4656–4679.
    The abiotic stress response in plants is complex and tightly controlled by gene regulation. We present an abiotic stress gene regulatory network of 200,014 interactions for 11,938 target genes by integrating four complementary reverse-engineering solutions through average rank aggregation on an Arabidopsis thaliana microarray expression compendium. This ensemble performed the most robustly in benchmarking and greatly expands upon the availability of interactions currently reported. Besides recovering 1182 known regulatory interactions, cis-regulatory motifs and coherent functionalities of target genes corresponded with the predicted transcription factors. We provide a valuable resource of 572 abiotic stress modules of coregulated genes with functional and regulatory information, from which we deduced functional relationships for 1966 uncharacterized genes and many regulators. Using gain-and loss-of-function mutants of seven transcription factors grown under control and salt stress conditions, we experimentally validated 141 out of 271 predictions (52% precision) for 102 selected genes and mapped 148 additional transcription factor-gene regulatory interactions (49% recall). We identified an intricate core oxidative stress regulatory network where NAC13, NAC053, ERF6, WRKY6, and NAC032 transcription factors interconnect and function in detoxification. Our work shows that ensemble reverse-engineering can generate robust biological hypotheses of gene regulation in a multicellular eukaryote that can be tested by medium-throughput experimental validation.
  9. Abeel, T., Van Parys, T., Saeys, Y., Galagan, J., & Van de Peer, Y. (2012). GenomeView : a next-generation genome browser. NUCLEIC ACIDS RESEARCH, 40(2).
    Due to ongoing advances in sequencing technologies, billions of nucleotide sequences are now produced on a daily basis. A major challenge is to visualize these data for further downstream analysis. To this end, we present GenomeView, a stand-alone genome browser specifically designed to visualize and manipulate a multitude of genomics data. GenomeView enables users to dynamically browse high volumes of aligned short-read data, with dynamic navigation and semantic zooming, from the whole genome level to the single nucleotide. At the same time, the tool enables visualization of whole genome alignments of dozens of genomes relative to a reference sequence. GenomeView is unique in its capability to interactively handle huge data sets consisting of tens of aligned genomes, thousands of annotation features and millions of mapped short reads both as viewer and editor. GenomeView is freely available as an open source software package.
  10. Audenaert, P., Van Parys, T., Brondel, F., Pickavet, M., Demeester, P., Van de Peer, Y., & Michoel, T. (2011). CyClus3D: a Cytoscape plugin for clustering network motifs in integrated networks. BIOINFORMATICS, 27(11), 1587–1588.
    Network motifs in integrated molecular networks represent functional relationships between distinct data types. They aggregate to form dense topological structures corresponding to functional modules which cannot be detected by traditional graph clustering algorithms. We developed CyClus3D, a Cytoscape plugin for clustering composite three-node network motifs using a 3D spectral clustering algorithm.
  11. Kano, Y., Bjorne, J., Ginter, F., Salakoski, T., Buyko, E., Hahn, U., … Tsujii, J. (2011). U-Compare bio-event meta-service : compatible BioNLP event extraction services. BMC BIOINFORMATICS, 12.
    Background: Bio-molecular event extraction from literature is recognized as an important task of bio text mining and, as such, many relevant systems have been developed and made available during the last decade. While such systems provide useful services individually, there is a need for a meta-service to enable comparison and ensemble of such services, offering optimal solutions for various purposes. Results: We have integrated nine event extraction systems in the U-Compare framework, making them inter-compatible and interoperable with other U-Compare components. The U-Compare event meta-service provides various meta-level features for comparison and ensemble of multiple event extraction systems. Experimental results show that the performance improvements achieved by the ensemble are significant. Conclusions: While individual event extraction systems themselves provide useful features for bio text mining, the U-Compare meta-service is expected to improve the accessibility to the individual systems, and to enable meta-level uses over multiple event extraction systems such as comparison and ensemble.
  12. Joshi, A. M., Van Parys, T., Van de Peer, Y., & Michoel, T. (2010). Characterizing regulatory path motifs in integrated networks using perturbational data. GENOME BIOLOGY, 11(3).
    We introduce Pathicular, a Cytoscape plugin for studying the cellular response to perturbations of transcription factors by integrating perturbational expression data with transcriptional, protein-protein and phosphorylation networks. Pathicular searches for 'regulatory path motifs', short paths in the integrated physical networks which occur significantly more often than expected between transcription factors and their targets in the perturbational data. A case study in Saccharomyces cerevisiae identifies eight regulatory path motifs and demonstrates their biological significance.
  13. Proost, S., Van Bel, M., Sterck, L., Billiau, K., Van Parys, T., Van de Peer, Y., & Vandepoele, K. (2009). PLAZA : a comparative genomics resource to study gene and genome evolution in plants. PLANT CELL, 21(12), 3718–3731.
    The number of sequenced genomes of representatives within the green lineage is rapidly increasing. Consequently, comparative sequence analysis has significantly altered our view on the complexity of genome organization, gene function, and regulatory pathways. To explore all this genome information, a centralized infrastructure is required where all data generated by different sequencing initiatives is integrated and combined with advanced methods for data mining. Here, we describe PLAZA, an online platform for plant comparative genomics ( This resource integrates structural and functional annotation of published plant genomes together with a large set of interactive tools to study gene function and gene and genome evolution. Precomputed data sets cover homologous gene families, multiple sequence alignments, phylogenetic trees, intraspecies whole-genome dot plots, and genomic colinearity between species. Through the integration of high confidence Gene Ontology annotations and tree-based orthology between related species, thousands of genes lacking any functional description are functionally annotated. Advanced query systems, as well as multiple interactive visualization tools, are available through a user-friendly and intuitive Web interface. In addition, detailed documentation and tutorials introduce the different tools, while the workbench provides an efficient means to analyze user-defined gene sets through PLAZA's interface. In conclusion, PLAZA provides a comprehensible and up-to-date research environment to aid researchers in the exploration of genome information within the green plant lineage.