Data Durban 2022: Exploratory Data Analysis & Modeling in R with Microbiome Applications

Date: September 20, 2022 By: Blythe Gulley and Emily Makowski

Last month, a team of instructors from the U.S. and South Africa led a five-day workshop at Nelson Mandela School of Medicine, University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) in Durban, South Africa. The objective of the course was to build research data analysis capacity for sub-Saharan African researchers by teaching R programming language basics and data modeling best practices. It covered UNIX computing, an introduction to R, library prep of human microbiome samples, processing raw microbiome data, and connecting sequencing data and metadata through exploratory data analysis.

Data Durban 2022 was organized by Doug Kwon, MD, PhD, at the Ragon Institute and Harvard Medical School; Joseph Elsherbini, PhD, bioinformatics analyst in the Kwon Lab; Scott Handley, PhD, at University of Washington in St. Louis; and Tulio de Oliveira, PhD, at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Fifty trainees from seven countries—Botswana, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, and Zimbabwe—were accepted into Data Durban 2022, which ran from August 22-26, 2022. The workshop was free to participants and provided breakfast, lunch, tea, and a mid-week networking reception in addition to instruction.

At the end of the workshop, participants left feeling empowered and ready to use R independently for their research and data analysis. “I had trouble learning R on my own. This workshop could not come at a better time. The workshop was successful as I learned far more than just a few basics, but also my confidence in using R has increased,” said one participant in anonymous course feedback.

Funding was generously provided by the Sub-Saharan African Network for TB/HIV Research Excellence (SANTHE) and the Harvard University Center for AIDS Research (CFAR), with infrastructure/operations support provided by the Center for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), the Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI) and the UKZN HIV Pathogenesis Programme (HPP).

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