Tracking movements with artificial intelligence

A software tool has been developed to automatically analyse particle movements inside cells.
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Artist's impression of an artificial intelligence programme trained to recognise particle motion in space-time representations. Image credit: Eva Pillai (CC BY 4.0)

Many molecules and structures within cells have to move about to do their job. Studying these movements is important to understand many biological processes, including the development of the brain or the spread of viruses.

Kymographs are images that represent the movement of particles in time and space. Unfortunately, tracing the lines that represent movement in kymographs of biological particles is hard to do automatically, so currently this analysis is done by hand. Manually annotating kymographs is tedious, time-consuming and prone to the researcher’s unconscious bias.

In an effort to simplify the analysis of kymographs, Jakobs et al. have developed KymoButler, a software tool that can do it automatically. KymoButler uses artificial intelligence to trace the lines in a kymograph and extract the information about particle movement. It speeds up analysis of kymographs by between 50 and 250 times, and comparisons show that it is as reliable as manual analysis. KymoButler is also significantly more effective than any previously existing automatic kymograph analysis programme. To make KymoButler accessible, Jakobs et al. have also created a website with a drag-and-drop facility that allows researchers to easily use the tool.

KymoButler has been tested in many areas of biological research, from quantifying the movement of molecules in neurons to analysing the dynamics of the scaffolds that help cells keep their shape. This variety of applications showcases KymoButler’s versatility, and its potential applications. Jakobs et al. are further contributing to the field of machine learning in biology with ‘’, an online hub with the goal of accelerating the adoption of artificial intelligence in biology.