Blue Collar Bioinformatics

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Scaling variant detection pipelines for whole genome sequencing analysis

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Scaling for whole genome sequencing

Moving from exome to whole genome sequencing introduces a myriad of scaling and informatics challenges. In addition to the biological component of correctly identifying biological variation, it’s equally important to be able to handle the informatics complexities that come with scaling up to whole genomes.

At Harvard School of Public Health, we are processing an increasing number of whole genome samples and the goal of this post is to share experiences scaling the bcbio-nextgen pipeline to handle the associated increase in file sizes and computational requirements. We’ll provide an overview of the pipeline architecture in bcbio-nextgen and detail the four areas we found most useful to overcome processing bottlenecks:

  • Support heterogeneous cluster creation to maximize resource usage.
  • Increase parallelism by developing flexible methods to split and process by genomic regions.
  • Avoid file IO and prefer streaming piped processing pipelines.
  • Explore distributed file systems to better handle file IO.

This overview isn’t meant as a prescription, but rather as a description of experiences so far. The work is a collaboration between the HSPH Bioinformatics Core, the research computing team at Harvard FAS and Dell Research. We welcome suggestions and thoughts from others working on these problems.

Pipeline architecture

The bcbio-nextgen pipeline runs in parallel on single multicore machines or distributed on job scheduler managed clusters like LSF, SGE, and TORQUE. The IPython parallel framework manages the set up of parallel engines and handling communication between them. These abstractions allow the same pipeline to scale from a single processor to hundreds of node on a cluster.

The high level diagram of the analysis pipeline shows the major steps in the process. For whole genome samples we start with large 100Gb+ files of reads in FASTQ or BAM format and perform alignment, post-alignment processing, variant calling and variant post processing. These steps involve numerous externally developed software tools with different processing and memory requirements.

Variant calling overview

Heterogeneous clusters

A major change in the pipeline was supporting creation of heterogeneous processing environments targeted for specific programs. This moves away from our previous architecture, which attempted to flatten processing and utilize single cores throughout. Due to algorithm restrictions, some software requires the entire set of reads for analysis. For instance, GATK’s base quality recalibrator uses the entire set of aligned reads to accurately calculate inputs for read recalibration. Other software operates more efficiently on entire files: the alignment step scales better by running using multiple cores on a single machine, since the IO penalty for splitting the input file is so severe.

To support this, bcbio-nextgen creates an appropriate type of cluster environment for each step:

  • Multicore: Allocates groups of same machine processors, allowing analysis of individual samples with multiple cores. For example, this enables running bwa alignment with 16 cores on multiprocessor machines.
  • Full usage of single cores: Maximize usage of single cores for processes that scale beyond the number of samples. For example, we run variant calling in parallel across subsets of the genome.
  • Per sample single core usage: Some steps do not currently parallelize beyond the number of samples, so require a single core per sample.

IPython parallel provides the distributed framework for creating these processing setups, working on top of existing schedulers like LSF, SGE and TORQUE. It creates processing engines on distributed cores within the cluster, using ZeroMQ to communicate job information between machines.

Cluster schedulers allow this type of control over core usage, but an additional future step is to include memory and disk IO requirements as part of heterogeneous environment creation. Amazon Web Services allows selection of exact memory, disk and compute resources to match the computational step. Eucalyptus and OpenStack bring this control to local hardware and virtual machines.

Variant calling overview

Parallelism by genomic regions

While the initial alignment and preparation steps require analysis of a full set of reads due to IO and algorithm restrictions, subsequent steps can run with increased parallelism by splitting across genomic regions. Variant detection algorithms do require processing continuous blocks of reads together, allowing local realignment algorithms to correctly characterize closely spaced SNPs and indels. Previously, we’d split analyses by chromosome but this has the downside of tying analysis times to chromosome 1, the largest chromosome.

The pipeline now identifies chromosome blocks without callable reads. These blocks group by either genomic features like repetitive hard to align sequence or analysis requirements like defined target regions. Using the globally shared callable regions across samples, we fraction the genome into more uniform sections for processing. As a result we can work on smaller chunks of reads during time critical parts of the process: applying base recalibration, de-duplication, realignment and variant calling.

Parallel block selection from genome

Streaming pipelines

A key bottleneck throughout the pipeline is disk usage. Steps requiring reading and writing large BAM or FASTQ files slow down dramatically once they overburden disk IO, distributed filesystem capabilities or ethernet connectivity between storage nodes. A practical solution to this problem is to avoid intermediate files and use unix pipes to stream results between processes.

We reworked our alignment step specifically to eliminate these issues. The previous attempt took a disk centric approach that allowed scaling out to multiple single cores in a cluster. We split an input FASTQ or BAM file into individual chunks of reads, and then aligned each of these chunks independently. Finally, we merged all the individual BAMs together to produce a final BAM file to pass on to the next step in the process. While nicely generalized, it did not scale when running multiple concurrent whole genomes.

The updated pipeline uses multicore support in samtools and aligners like bwa-mem and novoalign to pipe all steps as a stream: preparation of input reads, alignment, conversion to BAM and coordinate sorting of aligned reads. This results in improved scaling at the cost of only being able to increase single sample throughput to the maximum processors on a machine.

More generally, the entire process creates numerous temporary file intermediates that are a cause of scaling issues. Commonly used best-practice toolkits like Picard and GATK primarily require intermediate files. In contrast, tools in the Marth lab’s gkno pipeline handle streaming input and output making it possible to create alignment post-processing pipelines which minimize temporary file creation. As a general rule, supporting streaming algorithms amenable to piping can ameliorate file load issues associated with scaling up variant calling pipelines. This echos the focus on streaming algorithms Titus Brown advocates for dealing with large metagenomic datasets.

Distributed file systems

While all three of CPU, memory and disk speed limit individual steps during processing, the hardest variable to tweak is disk throughput. CPU and memory limitations have understandable solutions: buy faster CPUs and more memory. Improving disk access is not as easily solved, even with monetary resources, as it’s not clear what combination of disk and distributed filesystem will produce the best results for this type of pipeline.

We’ve experimented with NFS, GlusterFS and Lustre for handling disk access associated with high throughput variant calling. Each requires extensive tweaking and none has been unanimously better for all parts of the process. Much credit is due to John Morrissey and the research computing team at Harvard FAS for help performing incredible GlusterFS and network improvements as we worked through scaling issues, and Glen Otero, Will Cottay and Neil Klosterman at Dell for configuring an environment for NFS and Lustre testing. We can summarize what we’ve learned so far in two points:

  • A key variable is the network connectivity between storage nodes. We’ve worked with the pipeline on networks ranging from 1 GigE to InfiniBand connectivity, and increased throughput delays scaling slowdowns.
  • Different part of the processes stress different distributed file systems in complex ways. NFS provides the best speed compared to single machine processing until you hit scaling issues, then it slows down dramatically. Lustre and GlusterFS result in a reasonable performance hit for less disk intensive processing, but delay the dramatic slowdowns seen with NFS. However, when these systems reach their limits they hit a slowdown wall as bad or worse than NFS. One especially slow process identified on Gluster is SQLite indexing, although we need to do more investigation to identify specific underlying causes of the slowdown.

Other approaches we’re considering include utilizing high speed local temporary disk, reducing writes to long term distributed storage file systems. This introduces another set of challenges: avoiding stressing or filling up local disk when running multiple processes. We’ve also had good reports about using MooseFS but haven’t yet explored setting up and configuring another distributed file system. I’d love to hear experiences and suggestions from anyone with good or bad experiences using distributed file systems for this type of disk intensive high throughput sequencing analysis.

A final challenge associated with improving disk throughput is designing a pipeline that is not overly engineered to a specific system. We’d like to be able to take advantage of systems with large SSD attached temporary disk or wonderfully configured distributed file systems, while maintaining the ability scale on other systems. This is critical for building a community framework that multiple groups can use and contribute to.

Timing results

Providing detailed timing estimates for large, heterogeneous pipelines is difficult since they will be highly depending on the architecture and input files. Here we’ll present some concrete numbers that provide more insight into the conclusions presented above. These are more useful as a side by side comparison between approaches, rather than hard numbers to predict scaling on your own systems.

In partnership with Dell Solutions Center, we’ve been performing benchmarking of the pipeline on dedicated cluster hardware. The Dell system has 32 16-core machines connected with high speed InfiniBand to distributed NFS and Lustre file systems. We’re incredibly appreciative of Dell’s generosity in configuring, benchmarking and scaling out this system.

As a benchmark, we use 10x coverage whole genome human sequencing data from the Illumina platinum genomes project. Detailed instructions on setting up and running the analysis are available as part of the bcbio-nextgen example pipeline documentation.

Below are wall-clock timing results, in total hours, for scaling from 1 to 30 samples on both Lustre and NFS fileystems:

primary 1 sample 1 sample 1 sample 30 samples 30 samples
bottle 16 cores 96 cores 96 cores 480 cores 480 cores
neck Lustre Lustre NFS Lustre NFS
alignment cpu/mem 4.3h 4.3h 3.9h 4.5h 6.1h
align post-process io 3.7h 1.0h 0.9h 7.0h 20.7h
variant calling cpu/mem 2.9h 0.5h 0.5h 3.0h 1.8h
variant post-process io 1.0h 1.0h 0.6h 4.0h 1.5h
total 11.9h 6.8h 5.9h 18.5h 30.1h

Some interesting conclusions:

  • Scaling single samples to additional cores (16 to 96) provides a 40% reduction in processing time due to increased parallelism during post-processing and variant calling.
  • Lustre provides the best scale out from 1 to 30 samples, with 30 sample concurrent processing taking only 1.5x as along as a single sample.
  • NFS provides slightly better performance than Lustre for single sample scaling.
  • In contrast, NFS runs into scaling issues at 30 samples, proceeding 5.5 times slower during the IO intensive alignment post-processing step.

This is preliminary work as we continue to optimize code parallelism and work on cluster and distributed file system setup. We welcome feedback and thoughts to improve pipeline throughput and scaling recommendations.

Written by Brad Chapman

May 22, 2013 at 6:50 am

Posted in variation

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Framework for evaluating variant detection methods: comparison of aligners and callers

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Variant detection and grading overview

Developing pipelines for detecting variants from high throughput sequencing data is challenging due to rapidly changing algorithms and relatively low concordance between methods. This post will discuss automated methods providing evaluation of variant calls, enabling detailed diagnosis of discordant differences between multiple calling approaches. This allows us to:

  • Characterize strengths and weaknesses of alignment, post-alignment preparation and calling methods.
  • Automatically verify pipeline updates and installations to ensure variant calls recover expected variations. This extends the XPrize validation protocol to provide full summary metrics on concordance and discordance of variants.
  • Make recommendations on best-practice approaches to use in sequencing studies requiring either exome or whole genome variant calling.
  • Identify characteristics of genomic regions more likely to have discordant variants which require additional care when making biological conclusions based on calls, or lack of calls, in these regions.

This evaluation work is part of a larger community effort to better characterize variant calling methods. A key component of these evaluations is a well characterized set of reference variations for the NA12878 human HapMap genome, provided by NIST’s Genome in a Bottle consortium. The diagnostic component of this work supplements emerging tools like GCAT (Genome Comparison and Analytic Testing), which provides a community platform for comparing and discussing calling approaches.

I’ll show a 12 way comparison between 2 different aligners (novoalign and bwa mem), 2 different post-alignment preparation methods (GATK best practices and the Marth lab’s gkno pipeline), and 3 different variant callers (GATK UnifiedGenotyper, GATK HaplotypeCaller, and FreeBayes). This allows comparison of openly available methods (bwa mem, gkno preparation, and FreeBayes) with those that require licensing (novoalign, GATK’s variant callers). I’ll also describe bcbio-nextgen, the fully automated open-source pipeline used for variant calling and evaluation, which allows others to easily bring this methodology into their own work and extend this analysis.

Aligner, post-alignment preparation and variant calling comparison

To compare methods, we called variants on a NA12878 exome dataset from EdgeBio’s clinical pipeline and assessed them against the NIST Genome in a Bottle reference material. Discordant positions where the reference and evaluation variants differ fall into three different categories:

  • Extra variants, called in the evaluation data but not in the reference. These are potential false positives.
  • Missing variants, found in the NA12878 reference but not in the evaluation data set. These are potential false negatives. The use of high quality reference materials from NIST enables identification of genomic regions we fail to call in.
  • Shared variants, called in both the evaluation and reference but differently represented. This could result from allele differences, such as heterozygote versus homozygote calls, or variant identification differences, such as indel start and end coordinates.

To further identify causes of discordance, we subdivide the missing and extra variants using annotations from the GEMINI variation framework:

We subdivide and restrict our comparisons to help identify sources of differences between methods indistinguishable when looking at total discordant counts. A critical subdivison is comparing SNPs and indels separately. With lower total counts of indels but higher error rates, each variant type needs independent visualization. Secondly, it’s crucial to distinguish between discordance caused by a lack of coverage, and discordance caused by an actual difference in variant assessment. We evaluate only in callable regions with 4 or more reads. This low minimum cutoff provides a valuable evaluation of low coverage regions, which differ the most between alignment and calling methods.

I’ll use this data to provide recommendations for alignment, post-alignment preparation and variant calling. In addition to these high level summaries, the full dataset and summary plots available below providing a starting place for digging further into the data.

Aligners

We compared two recently released aligners designed to work with longer reads coming from new sequencing technologies: novoalign (3.00.02) and bwa mem (0.7.3a). bwa mem identified 1389 additional concordant SNPs and 145 indels not seen with novoalign. 1024 of these missing variants are in regions where novoalign does not provide sufficient coverage for calling. Of those, 92% (941) have low coverage with less than 10 reads in the bwa alignments. Algorithmic changes impact low coverage regions more due to the decreased evidence and susceptibility to crossing calling coverage thresholds, so we need extra care and consideration of calls in these regions.

Our standard workflow uses novoalign based on its stringency in resolving large insertions and deletions. These results suggest equally good results using bwa mem, along with improved processing times. One caveat to these results is that some of the available Illumina call data that feeds into NIST’s reference genomes comes from a bwa alignment, so some differences may reflect a bias towards bwa alignment heuristics. Using non-simulated reference data sets has the advantage of capturing real biological and process errors, but requires iterative improvement of the reference materials to avoid this type of potential algorithmic bias.

Comparison of concordant variants by aligner type

Post-alignment preparation and quality score recalibration

We compared two methods of quality recalibration:

  • GATK’s best practices (2.4-9): This involves de-duplication with Picard MarkDuplicates, GATK base quality score recalibration and GATK realignment around indels.
  • The Marth Lab’s gkno realignment pipeline: This performs de-duplication with samtools rmdup and realignment around indels using ogap. All commands in this pipeline work on streaming input, avoiding disk IO penalties by using unix pipes. This piped approach improves scaling on large numbers of whole genome samples. Notably, our implementation of the pipeline does not use a base quality score recalibration step.

GATK best practice pipelines offer an advantage over the gkno-only pipeline primarily because of improvements in SNP calling from base quality recalibration. Specifically we lose ~1% (824 / 77158) of called variations. These fall into the discordant missing “other” category, so we cannot explain them by metrics such as coverage or genome difficulty. The simplest explanation is that initial poor quality calculations in those regions result in callers missing those variants. Base quality recalibration helps recover them. These results match Brendan O’Fallon’s recent analysis of base quality score recalibration.

This places a practical number on the lost variants when avoiding recalibration either due to scaling or GATK licensing concerns. Some other options for recalibration include Novoalign’s Quality Recalibration and University of Michigan’s BamUtil recab, although we’ve not yet tested either in depth as potential supplements to improve calling in non-GATK pipelines.

Comparison of concordant variants by post-alignment prep method

Variant callers

For this comparison, we used three general purpose callers that handle SNPs and small indels, all of which have updated versions since our last comparison:

Adjusting variant calling methods has the biggest impact on the final set of calls. Called SNPs differ by 4577 between the three compared approaches, in comparison with aligner and post-alignment preparation changes which resulted in a maximum difference of 1389 calls. This suggests that experimenting with variant calling approaches currently provides the most leverage to improve calls.

A majority of the SNP concordance differences between the three calling methods are in low coverage regions with between 4 and 9 reads. GATK UnifiedGenotyper performs the best in detecting SNPs in these low coverage regions. FreeBayes and GATK HaplotypeCaller both call more conservatively in these regions, generating more potential false negatives. FreeBayes had the fewest heterozygote/homozygote discrimination differences of the three callers.

For indels, FreeBayes and HaplotypeCaller both provide improved sensitivity compared to UnifiedGenotyper, with HaplotypeCaller identifying the most, especially in low coverage regions. In contrast to the SNP calling results, FreeBayes has more calls that match the expected indel but differ in whether a call is a heterozygote or homozygote.

Comparison of concordant variants by calling method

No one caller outperformed the others on all subsets of the data. GATK UnifiedGenotyper performs best on SNPs but is less sensitive in resolving indels. GATK HaplotypeCaller identifies the most indels, but is more conservative than the other callers on SNPs. FreeBayes provides intermediate sensitivity and specificity between the two for both SNPs and indels. A combined UnifiedGenotyper and HaplotypeCaller pipeline for SNPs and indels, respectively, would provide the best overall calling metrics based on this set of comparisons.

Low coverage regions are the key area of difference between callers. Coupled with the alignment results and investigation of variant changes resulting from quality score binning, this suggests we should be more critical in assessing both calls and coverage in these regions. Assessing coverage and potential false negatives is especially critical since we lack good tools to summarize and prioritize genomic regions that are potentially missed during sequencing. This also emphasizes the role of population-based calling to help resolve low coverage regions, since callers can use evidence from multiple samples to better estimate the likelihoods of low coverage calls.

Automated calling and grading pipeline

Method comparisons become dated quickly due to the continuous improvement in aligners and variant callers. While these recommendations are useful now, in 6 months there will be new releases with improved approaches. This rapid development cycle creates challenges for biologists hoping to derive meaning from variant results: do you stay locked on software versions whose trade offs you understand, or do you attempt to stay current and handle re-verifying results with every new release?

Our goal is to provide a community developed pipeline and comparison framework that ameliorates this continuous struggle to re-verify. The analysis done here is fully automated as part of the bcbio-nextgen analysis framework. This framework code provides full exposure and revision tracking of all parameters used in analyses. For example, the ngsalign module contains the command lines used for bwa mem and novoalign, as well as all other tools.

To install the pipeline, third-party software and required data files:

wget https://raw.github.com/chapmanb/bcbio-nextgen/master/scripts/bcbio_nextgen_install.py
python bcbio_nextgen_install.py /usr/local /usr/local/share/bcbio-nextgen

The installer bootstraps all installation on a bare machine using the CloudBioLinux framework. More details and options are available in the installation documentation.

To re-run this analysis, retrieve the input data files and configuration as described in the bcbio-nextgen example documentation with:

$ mkdir config && cd config
$ wget https://raw.github.com/chapmanb/bcbio-nextgen/master/config/\
   examples/NA12878-exome-methodcmp.yaml
$ cd .. && mkdir input && cd input
$ wget https://dm.genomespace.org/datamanager/file/Home/EdgeBio/\
   CLIA_Examples/NA12878-NGv3-LAB1360-A/NA12878-NGv3-LAB1360-A_1.fastq.gz
$ wget https://dm.genomespace.org/datamanager/file/Home/EdgeBio/\
   CLIA_Examples/NA12878-NGv3-LAB1360-A/NA12878-NGv3-LAB1360-A_2.fastq.gz
$ wget https://s3.amazonaws.com/bcbio_nextgen/NA12878-nist-v2_13-NGv3-pass.vcf.gz
$ wget https://s3.amazonaws.com/bcbio_nextgen/NA12878-nist-v2_13-NGv3-regions.bed.gz
$ gunzip NA12878-nist-*.gz
$ wget https://s3.amazonaws.com/bcbio_nextgen/NGv3.bed.gz
$ gunzip NGv3.bed.gz

Then run the analysis, distributed on 8 local cores, with:

$ mkdir work && cd work
$ bcbio_nextgen.py bcbio_system.yaml ../input ../config/NA12878-exome-methodcmp.yaml -n 8

The bcbio-nextgen documentation describes how to parallelize processing over multiple machines using cluster schedulers (LSF, SGE, Torque).

The pipeline and comparison framework are open-source and configurable for multiple aligners, preparation methods and callers. We invite anyone interested in this work to provide feedback and contributions.

Full data sets

We extracted the conclusions for alignment, post-alignment preparation and variant calling from analysis of the full dataset. The visualizations for the full data are not as pretty but we make them available for anyone interested in digging deeper:

The comparison variant calls are also useful for pinpointing algorithmic differences between methods. Some useful subsets of variants:

  • Concordant variants called by bwa and not novoalign, where novoalign did not have sufficient coverage in the region. These are calls where either novoalign fails to map some reads, or bwa maps too aggressively: VCF of bwa calls with low or no coverage in novoalign.
  • Discordant variants called consistently by multiple calling methods. These are potential errors in the reference material, or consistently problematic calling regions for multiple algorithms. Of the 9004 shared discordants, the majority are potential false negatives not seen in the evaluation calls (7152; 79%). Another large portion is heterozygote/homozygote differences, which make up 1627 calls (18%). 6652 (74%) of the differences have low coverage in the exome evaluation, again reflecting the difficulties in calling in these regions. The VCF of discordants found in 2 or more callers contains these calls, with a ‘GradeCat’ INFO tag specifying the discordance category.

We encourage reanalysis and welcome suggestions for improving the presentation and conclusions in this post.

Written by Brad Chapman

May 6, 2013 at 8:29 am

The influence of reduced resolution quality scores on alignment and variant calling

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BAM file size reduction and quality score binning

We have a large upcoming whole genome sequencing project with Illumina, and they approached us about delivering BAM files with reduced resolution base quality scores. They have a white paper describing the approach, which involves binning scores to reduce resolution. This reduces the number of scores describing the quality of a base from 40 down to 8.

The advantage of this approach is a significant reduction in file size. BAM files use BGZF compression, and the underlying gzip DEFLATE algorithm compresses based on shared text regions. Reducing the number of quality values increases shared blocks and improves compression. This reduces BAM file sizes by 25-35%: an exome BAM file reduced from 5.7Gb to 3.7Gb after quality binning.

The potential downside is that the reduction in quality resolution may impact alignment and variant calling approaches that rely on base quality scores. To assess this, I implemented quality score binning as part of the bcbio-nextgen analysis pipeline using the CRAM toolkit and ran alignment, recalibration, realignment and variant calling on:

  • The original unbinned 40-resolution base quality BAM from an NA12878 exome.
  • The BAM binned into 8-resolution base qualities before alignment.
  • The BAM binned into 8-resolution base qualities before alignment and binned again following base quality score recalibration.

A comparison of alignment and variant calls from the three approaches indicates that binning has nearly no impact on alignment and a small impact on variant calls, primarily in low depth regions.

Alignment differences

We aligned 100bp paired end reads with Novoalign, a quality aware aligner. Comparison of mapped reads showed nearly no impact on total mapped reads. The plot below shows a generic delta of changes in mapped reads across the 22 autosomes alongside the increase in unmapped pairs. Out of 73 million total reads, the changes account for ~0.003% of the total reads. There also did not appear to be any worrisome patterns of loss for specific chromosomes. Overall, there is a minimal impact of quality score binning on the ability to align the reads.

Alignment changes following quality binning

Variant call differences

We called variants using the GATK Unified Genotyper following the best practice recommendations for exomes and then compared calls from original and binned quality scores. Both approaches for binning — pre-binning, and pre-binning plus post-quality recalibration binning — showed similar levels of concordance to non-binned quality scores: 99.81 and 99.78, respectively. Since the additional binning after recalibration provides a smaller prepared BAM file for storage and has a similar impact to pre-binning only, we used this for additional analysis of discordant variants.

The table below shows the discordant differences between the 40 quality score resolution and binned, 8 quality score resolution BAMs. 40 quality discordant variants are those called with full quality score resolution but not called, or called differently, after binning to 8 quality score resolution. Conversely, the 8-quality discordants are those called uniquely after quality binning:

Overall genotype concordance 99.78
concordant: total 117887
concordant: SNPs 109144
concordant: indels 8743
40-quality discordant: total 821
40-quality discordant: SNPs 759
40-quality discordant: indels 62
8-quality discordant: total 1289
8-quality discordant: SNPs 1240
8-quality discordant: indels 49
het/hom discordant 259

We investigated the discordant variants further since 1.5% of the total variant calls change as a result of binning, Of the 1851 unique discordant variants, approximately half (928) fall into reproducible variants identified by looking at ensemble combinations of replicates. Of these potentially problematic discordant variants more than half are in low coverage regions with less than 10 reads:

Variant changes following quality binning

The major influence of quality score binning is resolution of variants in low coverage regions. This manifests as differences in heterozygote and homozygote calling, indel representation and filtering differences related to quality and mappability. To assess the potential impact, we looked at the loss in callable bases on a 30x whole genome sequence when moving from a minimum of 5 reads to a minimum of 10, using GATK’s CallableLoci tool. Regions with read coverage of 5 to 9 make up 4.7 million genome positions, 0.17% of the total callable bases.

5 read minimum 10 read minimum
Callable bases 2,775,871,235 2,771,109,000
Percent callable 96.90% 96.73%
Low coverage 17,641,980 22,404,215
No coverage/ poor mapping 71,272,008 71,272,008

In conclusion, quality score binning provides a useful reduction in input file sizes with minimal impact on alignment. For variant calling, use additional caution in low coverage regions with less than 10 supporting reads. Given the rapid increases in read throughput that are driving the need for file size reduction, quality score binning is a worthwhile tradeoff for high-coverage recalling work.

Written by Brad Chapman

February 13, 2013 at 5:49 am

Posted in variation

Tagged with , , ,

An automated ensemble method for combining and evaluating genomic variants from multiple callers

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Overview

A key goal of the Archon Genomics X Prize infrastructure is development of a set of highly accurate reference genome variants. I’ve described our work preparing these reference genomes, and specifically defined the challenges behind merging genomic variant calls from multiple technologies and calling methods. Comparing calls from two different calling methods, for example GATK and samtools mpileup, produces a large number of differing variants which need reconciliation. Taking the overlapping subset from multiple callers is too conservative and will miss real variations, while including all calls is too liberal and introduces false positives.

Here I’ll describe a fully automated approach for preparing an accurate set of combined variant calls. Ensemble machine learning methods are a powerful way to incorporate inputs from multiple models. We use a heuristic and support vector machine (SVM) algorithm to consolidate variants, producing a final set of calls with better sensitivity and specificity than current best practice methods. The approach is open source, fully automated and generalizable to both human diploid sequencing as well as X Prize haploid reference fosmids.

We use a pair of replicates from EdgeBio’s clinical exome sequencing pipeline to prepare ensemble variant calls in the widely studied HapMap NA12878 genome. Compared to variants from a single calling method, the ensemble method produced more concordant variants when comparing the replicates, with fewer discordants. The finalized ensemble calls also provide a useful method to compare strengths and weaknesses of individual calling methods. The implementation is freely available and I’ll discuss how to get it running on your data so you can use, critique and extend the methods. This work is a collaboration between Harvard School of Public Health, EdgeBio and NIST.

Comparison materials and algorithm

A difficult aspect of evaluating variant calling methods is establishing a reference set of calls. For X Prize we use three established methods, each of which comes with tradeoffs. Metrics like transition/transversion ratios or dbSNP overlap provide a global picture of calling but are not fine grained enough to distinguish improvements over best practices. Sanger validation restricts you to a manageable subset of calls. Comparisons against public resources like 1000 genomes bias results towards technologies and callers used in preparing those variant callsets.

Here we employ a fourth method by comparing replicates from EdgeBio’s clinical exome sequencing pipeline. These are NA12878 samples independently prepared using Nimblegen’s version 3.0 kit and sequenced on an Illumina HiSeq. By comparing the replicates in regions with 4 or more reads in both samples, we identify the ability of variant calling algorithms to call identical variations with differing coverage and error profiles.

We aligned reads with novoalign and performed deduplication, base recalibration and realignment using GATK best practices. With these prepared reads, we called variants with five approaches:

  • GATK UnifiedGenotyper – Bayesian approach to call SNPs and indels, treating each position independently.
  • GATK HaplotypeCaller – Performs local de-novo assembly to call SNPs and indels on individual haplotypes.
  • FreeBayes – Bayesian calling approach that handles simultaneous SNPs and indel calling via assessment of regional haplotypes.
  • samtools mpileup – Uses an approach similar to GATK’s UnifiedGenotyper for SNP and indel calling.
  • VarScan – Calls variants using a heuristic/statistic approach eliminating common sources of bias.

We took a combined heuristic and machine learning approach to consolidate these five sets of variant calls into a final ensemble callset. The first step is to prepare the union of all variant calls from the input callers, identifying calling methods that support each variant. Secondly, we annotate each variant with metrics including strand bias, allele balance, regional sequence entropy, position of calls within reads, regional base quality and overall genotype likelihoods. We then filter this prepared set of all possible variants to produce a final set of trusted calls.

The first filtering step is to heuristically identify trusted variants based on the number of callers supporting them. This configurable parameter allow you to make an initial conservative cutoff for including variants in the final calls: I trust variants supported by N or more callers.

For the remaining calls that fall below the trusted support cutoff, we distinguish true and false positives using a support vector machine (SVM). The annotated metrics described above are the input parameters and we prepare true and false positives for the classifier using a multi-step process:

  • Use variants found in all callers as the true positive set, and variants found in a single caller as false positives. Use these training variants to identify an initial set of below-cutoff variants to include and exclude.
  • With this initial set of below-cutoff true/false variants, re-train multiple classifiers stratified based on variant characteristics: variant type (indels vs SNPs), zygosity (heterozygous vs homozygous) and regional sequence complexity.
  • Use these final classifiers to identify included and excluded variants falling below the trusted calling support cutoff.

The final set of calls includes the trusted variants and those that pass the SVM filtering. An input configuration file for variant preparation and assessment allows adjustment of the trusted threshold as well as defining which metrics to use for building the SVM classifiers.

Ensemble calling improvements

We assess calling sensitivity and specificity by comparing concordant and discordant variant calls between the replicates. To provide a consistent method to measure both SNP and indel correctness, we use the positive predictive value as the percentage of concordant calls between duplicates (concordant variants / (concordant variants + discordant variants)). This is different than the overall concordance rate, which also includes non-variant regions where both replicates do not call a variation. As a result these percentages will be lower if you expect the 99% values that result when including reference calls. The advantage of this metric is that it’s easily interpreted as the percentage of concordant called variants. It also allows individual comparisons of SNPs and indels, since the overall number of indels are low compared to the total bases considered. GATK’s VariantEval documentation has a nice discussion of alternative metrics to genotype concordance.

As a baseline we used calls from GATK’s UnifiedGenotyper to represent a current best practice approach. GATK calls 117079 SNPs, 86.6% of which are concordant. It also calls 14966 indels, with 64.6% concordant. Here are the full concordant and discordant numbers, broken down by variant type and replicate:

concordant: total 111159
concordant: SNPs 101495
concordant: indels 9664
rep1 discordant: total 9857
rep1 discordant: SNPs 7514
rep1 discordant: indels 2343
rep2 discordant: total 11029
rep2 discordant: SNPs 8070
rep2 discordant: indels 2959
het/hom discordant 4181

Our ensemble method produces improvements in both total concordant variants detected and the ratio of concordant to discordants. For SNPs, the ensemble calls add 5345 additional variants to a total of 122424, with an increase in concordance to 87.4%. For indels the major improvement is in removal of discordants: We identify 14184 indels with 67.2% concordant. Here is the equivalent table for the ensemble method:

concordant: total 116608
concordant: SNPs 107063
concordant: indels 9545
rep1 discordant: total 9555
rep1 discordant: SNPs 7581
rep1 discordant: indels 1974
rep2 discordant: total 10445
rep2 discordant: SNPs 7780
rep2 discordant: indels 2665
het/hom discordant 3975

For scientists who have worked to increase sensitivity and specificity of individual variant callers, it’s exciting to be able to improve both simultaneously. As mentioned above, you can also tune the method to increase specificity or sensitivity by adjusting the support needed for including trusted variants.

The final ensemble callsets from both replicates are available as VCF files from GenomeSpace in the xprize/NA12878-exome-v_03 folder:

Comparison of calling methods

Calling the same samples with multiple callers allows direct comparisons between calling methods. The advantage of producing an accurate final set of ensemble calls is that this provides a baseline to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of different calling methods. The figure below compares concordant, missing variants and additional variants called by each of the 5 methods in comparison with the consolidated ensemble calls:

Concordance/discordance for calling methods

  • GATK UnifiedGenotyper provides the best SNP calling, followed closely by samtools mpileup.
  • For indel calling, the GATK HaplotypeCaller produces the most concordant calls followed by UnifiedGenotyper and FreeBayes. UnifiedGenotyper does good as well, but is conservative and has the fewest additional indels. FreeBayes and GATK HaplotypeCaller both provide resolution of individual haplotypes which helps in regions with heterozygous indels or closely spaced SNPs and indels.
  • If you want to use a single variant caller, GATK UnifiedGenotyper does the best overall job.
  • If you wanted to choose free open-source tools for calling, I would recommend samtools for SNP calling and FreeBayes for indel calling.

Variant calling methods with recommendations for both calling and filtering provide the best out of the box performance. An advantage of GATK and samtools is they provide calling, variant quality metrics, and filtering. On the other side, FreeBayes is a good example of a powerful tool that takes some time to learn to filter optimally. One potential source of bias in producing the individual calls is that I personally have more experience with GATK tools so may have room to improve with the other callers.

Availability and usage

Combining multiple calling approaches improves both sensitivity and specificity of the final set of variants. The downside is the need to run and coordinate calls from all of the different callers. To mitigate this, we developed an automated pipeline that ties together multiple open-source tools using two custom components:

  • bcbio-nextgen – A Python framework to run a full sequencing analysis pipeline from input fastq files to consolidated ensemble variant calls. It supports multiple aligners and variant callers, and enables distributed work over multiple cores on a large machine or multiple machines in a cluster environment.
  • bcbio.variation – A Clojure toolkit build on top of GATK’s variant API that provides ensemble call preparation as well as more general functionality for normalizing and comparing variants produced by multiple callers.

bcbio-nextgen has a script, built on functionality in the CloudBioLinux project, that automates installation of associated variant callers and data dependencies:

wget https://raw.github.com/chapmanb/bcbio-nextgen/master/scripts/bcbio_nextgen_install.py
python bcbio_nextgen_install.py install_directory data_directory

With the dependencies installed, you describe the input files and analysis with a YAML formatted input file. The NA12878 ensemble configuration file used for this analysis provides a useful starting point. Run the analysis, distributed on multiple cores, with:

bcbio_nextgen.py bcbio_system.yaml ensemble_sample.yaml -n 8

The bcbio-nextgen documentation provides additional details about configuration inputs and distributed processing. The framework generally handles the automation and processing involved with high throughput sequencing analysis.

EdgeBio kindly made the NA12878 datasets used in this analysis publicly available:

I welcome feedback on the approach, data or tools and am actively working to extend this and make it easier to use. As re-sequencing becomes increasingly important for human health applications it is critical that we develop open, shared best-practice workflows to handle the data processing. This allows us to focus back on the fun and difficult work of understanding the biology.

Written by Brad Chapman

February 6, 2013 at 7:25 am

Genomics X Prize public phase update: variant classification and de novo calling

with 7 comments

Background

Last month I described our work at HSPH and EdgeBio preparing reference genomes for the Archon Genomics X Prize public phase, detailing methods used in the first version of our NA19239 variant calls. We’ve been steadily improving the calling approaches, and released version 0.2 on the X Prize validation website and GenomeSpace. Here I’ll describe the improvements we’ve made over the last month, focusing on two specific areas:

  • De novo calling: Zam Iqbal suggested using his cortex_var de novo variant caller in addition to the current GATK, FreeBayes and samtools callers. With his help, we’ve included these calls in this release, and provide comparisons between de novo and alignment based methods.
  • Improved variant classification: Consolidating variant calls from multiple callers involves making tough choices about when to include or exclude variants. I’ll describe the details of selecting metrics for use in SVM classification and filtering of variants.

Our goal is to iteratively improve our calling and variant preparation to create the best possible set of reference calls. I’d be happy to talk more with anyone working on similar problems or with insight into useful ways to improve our current callsets. We have a Get Satisfaction site for discussion and feedback, and have offered a $2500 prize for helpful comments.

As a reminder, all of the code and data used here is freely available:

  • The variant analysis infrastructure, built on top of GATK, automates genome preparation, normalization and comparison. It provides a full pipeline, driven by simple configuration files, for consolidating multiple variant calls.
  • The combined variant calls, including training data and potential true and false positives, are available from GenomeSpace: Public/chapmanb/xprize/NA19239-v0_2.
  • The individual variant calls for each technology and calling method are also available from GenomeSpace: Public/EdgeBio/PublicData/Release1.

de novo variant calling with cortex_var

de novo variant calling performs reference-free assembly of either local or global genome regions, then subsequently uses these assemblies to call variants relative to a known reference. The advantage is that assemblies can avoid errors associated with mapping to the reference, helping resolve large variations as well as small variations near problem alignments or low complexity regions.

Hybrid approaches that use localized de novo assembly in variant regions help mitigate the extensive computational requirements associated with whole-genome assembly. Complete Genomics variant calling and GATK 2.0’s Haplotype Caller both provide pipelines for hybrid de novo assembly in variant detection. The fermi and SGA assemblers are also used in variant calling, although the paths from assembly to variants are not as automated.

Thanks to Zam’s generous assistance, we used cortex_var for localized de novo assembly and variant calling within individual fosmid boundaries. As a result, CloudBioLinux now contains automated build instructions for cortex_var , handling binary builds for multiple k-mer and color combinations. An automated cortex_var pipeline, part of the bcbio-nextgen toolkit, runs the processing workflow:

  • Start with reads aligned to fosmid regions using novoalign.
  • For each fosmid region, extract all mapped reads along with a local reference genome for variant calling.
  • de novo assemble all reads in the fosmid region and call variants against the local reference genome using cortex_var’s Bubble Caller.
  • Remap regional variant coordinates back to the full genome.
  • Combine all regional calls into the final set of cortex_var calls.

Directly comparing GATK and cortex_var calls shows similar levels of concordance and discordance as the GATK/samtools comparison from the last post:

concordant: total 153787
concordant: SNPs 130913
concordant: indels 22874
GATK discordant: total 20495
GATK discordant: SNPs 6522
GATK discordant: indels 13973
cortex_var discordant: total 26790
cortex_var discordant: SNPs 21342
cortex_var discordant: indels 5448

11% of the GATK calls and 14% of the cortex_var calls are discordant. The one area where cortex_var does especially well is on indels: 19% of the cortex_var indels do not agree with GATK, in comparison with 37% of the GATK calls and 25% of the samtools calls. The current downside to this is SNP calling, where cortex_var has 3 times more discordant calls than GATK.

Selection of classification metrics

Overlapping variant calls from different calling methods (GATK, FreeBayes, samtools and cortex_var) and sequencing technologies (Illumina, SOLiD and IonTorrent) produces 170,286 potential calls in the fosmid regions. 58% (99,227) of these are present in all callers and technologies, so we need to do better than the intersection in creating a consolidated callset.

As detailed in the previous post, we filter the full set in two ways. The first is to keep trusted variants based on their presence in a defined number of technologies or callers. We currently have an inclusive set of criteria: keep variants present in either 4 out of the 7 callsets, 2 distinct technologies, or 3 distinct callers. This creates a trusted set containing 95% (162,202) of the variants. Longer term the goal is to reduce the trusted count and rely on automated filtering approaches based on input metrics.

This second automated filtering step uses a support vector machine (SVM) to evaluate the remaining variants. We train the SVM on potential true positives from variants that overlap in all callers and technologies, and potential false positives found uniquely in one single caller. The challenge is to find useful metrics associated with these training variants that will help provide discrimination.

In version 0.1 we filtered with a vanilla set of metrics: depth and variant quality score. To identify additional metrics, we used a great variant visualization tool developed by Keming Labs alongside HSPH and EdgeBio. I’ll write up more details about the tool once we have a demonstration website but the code is already available on GitHub.

To remove variants preferentially associated with poorly mapping or misaligned reads, we identified two useful metrics. ReadPosEndDist, written as a GATK annotation by Justin Zook at NIST, identifies variants primarily supported by calls at the ends of reads. Based on visual examination, these associate with difficult to map regions, as identified by Genome Mappability Scores:

Secondly, we identified problematic allele balances that differ from the expected ratios. For haploid fosmid calls, we expect 100% of reads to support variants and 0% to support reference calls (in diploid calls, you also need to handle heterozygotes with 50% expected allele balance). In practice, the distribution of reads can differ due to sequencer and alignment errors. We use a metric that measures deviation from the expected allele balance and associates closely with variant likelihoods:

Improved consolidated calls

To assess the influence of adding de novo calls and additional filtering metrics on the resulting call set, we compare against whole genome Illumina and Complete Genomics calls for NA19239. Previously we’d noticed two major issues during this comparison: a high percentage of discordant indel calls and a technology bias signaled by better concordance with Illumina than Complete.

The comparison between fosmid and Illumina data shows a substantial improvement in the indel bias. Previously 46% of the total indel calls were discordant, indicative of a potential false positive problem. With de novo calls and improved filtering, we’ve lowered this to only 10% of the total calls.

concordant: total 147684
concordant: SNPs 133861
concordant: indels 13823
fosmid discordant: total 7519
fosmid discordant: SNPs 5856
fosmid discordant: indels 1663
Illumina discordant: total 5640
Illumina discordant: SNPs 1843
Illumina discordant: indels 3797

This improvement comes with a decrease in the total number of concordant indel calls, since we moved from 17,816 calls to 13,823. However a large number of these seemed to be Illumina specific since 60% of the previous calls were discordant when compared with Complete Genomics. The new callset reduces this discrepancy and only 22% of the indels are now discordant:

concordant: total 139155
concordant: SNPs 127243
concordant: indels 11912
fosmid discordant: total 15484
fosmid discordant: SNPs 12028
fosmid discordant: indels 3456
Complete Genomics discordant: total 7311
Complete Genomics discordant: SNPs 4972
Complete Genomics discordant: indels 2273

These comparisons provide some nice confirmation that we’re moving in the right direction on filtering. As before, we extract potential false positives and false negatives to continue to refine the calls: potential false positives are those called in the fosmid dataset and in neither of the Illumina or Complete Genomics sets. Potential false negatives are calls that both Illumina and Complete agree on that the fosmid calls lack.

In the new callsets, there are 5,499 (3.5%) potential false positives and 1,422 (0.9%) potential false negatives. We’ve reduced potential false positives in the previous set from 10% with a slight increase in false negatives. These subsets are available along with the full callset on GenomeSpace. We’re also working hard on an NA12878 callset with equivalent approaches and will make that available soon for community feedback.

I hope this discussion, open source code, and dataset release is useful to everyone working on problems of improving variant calling accuracy and filtering. I welcome feedback on calling, consolidation methods, interesting metrics to explore, machine learning or any of the other topics discussed here.

Written by Brad Chapman

September 17, 2012 at 8:41 am

Extending the GATK for custom variant comparisons using Clojure

with 2 comments

The Genome Analysis Toolkit (GATK) is a full-featured library for dealing with next-generation sequencing data. The open-source Java code base, written by the Genome Sequencing and Analysis Group at the Broad Institute, exposes a Map/Reduce framework allowing developers to code custom tools taking advantage of support for: BAM Alignment files through Picard, BED and other interval file formats through Tribble, and variant data in VCF format.

Here I’ll show how to utilize the GATK API from Clojure, a functional, dynamic programming language that targets the Java Virtual Machine. We’ll:

  • Write a GATK walker that plots variant quality scores using the Map/Reduce API.
  • Create a custom annotation that adds a mean neighboring base quality metric using the GATK VariantAnnotator.
  • Use the VariantContext API to parse and access variant information in a VCF file.

The Clojure variation library is freely available and is part of a larger project to provide variant assessment capabilities for the Archon Genomics XPRIZE competition.

Map/Reduce GATK Walker

GATK’s well documented Map/Reduce API eases the development of custom programs for processing BAM and VCF files. The presentation from Eli Lilly is a great introduction to developing your own custom GATK Walkers in Java. Here we’ll follow a similar approach to code these in Clojure.

We’ll start by defining a simple Java base class that extends the base GATK walker and defines an output and input variable. The output is a string specifying the output file to write to, and the input is any type of variant file the GATK accepts. Here we’ll be dealing with VCF input files:

public abstract class BaseVariantWalker extends RodWalker {
  @Output
  public String out;

  @ArgumentCollection
  public StandardVariantContextInputArgumentCollection invrns = new StandardVariantContextInputArgumentCollection();
}

This base class is all the Java we need. We implement the remaining walker in Clojure and will walk through the fully annotated source in sections. To start, we import the base walker we wrote and extend this to generate a Java class, which the GATK will pick up and make available as a command line walker:

(ns bcbio.variation.vcfwalker
  (:import [bcbio.variation BaseVariantWalker])
  (:gen-class
   :name bcbio.variation.vcfwalker.VcfSimpleStatsWalker
   :extends bcbio.variation.BaseVariantWalker))

Since this is a Map/Reduce framework, we first need to implement the map function. GATK passes this function a tracker, used to retrieve the actual variant call values and a context which describes the current location. We use the invrns argument we defined in Java to reference the input VCF file supplied on the commandline. Finally, we extract the quality score from each VariantContext and return those. This map function produces a stream of quality scores from the input VCF file:

(defn -map
  [this tracker ref context]
  (if-not (nil? tracker)
    (for [vc (map from-vc
                    (.getValues tracker (.variants (.invrns this))
                                (.getLocation context)))]
      (-> vc :genotypes first :qual))))

For the reduce part, we take the stream of quality scores and plot a histogram. In the GATK this happens in 3 functions: reduceInit starts the reduction step and creates a list to add the quality scores to, reduce collects all of the quality scores into this list, and onTraversalDone plots a histogram of these scores using the Incanter statistical library:

(defn -reduceInit
  [this]
  [])

(defn -reduce
  [this cur coll]
  (if-not (nil? cur)
    (vec (flatten [coll cur]))
    coll))

(defn -onTraversalDone
  [this result]
  (doto (icharts/histogram result
                           :x-label "Variant quality"
                           :nbins 50)
    (icore/save (.out this) :width 500 :height 400)))

We’ve implemented a full GATK walker in Clojure, taking advantage of existing Clojure plotting libraries. To run this, compile the code into a jarfile and run like a standard GATK tool:

$ lein uberjar
$ java -jar bcbio.variation-0.0.1-SNAPSHOT-standalone.jar -T VcfSimpleStats
  -r test/data/grch37.fa --variant test/data/gatk-calls.vcf --out test.png

which produces a plot of quality score distributions:

GATK walker quality scores

Custom GATK Annotation

GATK’s Variant Annotator is a useful way to add metrics information to a file of variants. These metrics allow filtering and prioritization of variants, either by variant quality score recalibration or hard filtering. We can add new annotation metrics by inheriting from GATK Java interfaces. Here we’ll implement Mean Neighboring Base Quality (NBQ), a metric from the Atlas2 variation suite that assesses the quality scores in a region surrounding a variation.

We start walking through the full implementation by again defining a generated Java class that inherits from a GATK interface. In this case, InfoFieldAnnotation:

(ns bcbio.variation.annotate.nbq
  (:import [org.broadinstitute.sting.gatk.walkers.annotator.interfaces.InfoFieldAnnotation]
           [org.broadinstitute.sting.utils.codecs.vcf VCFInfoHeaderLine VCFHeaderLineType])
  (:require [incanter.stats :as istats])
  (:gen-class
   :name bcbio.variation.annotate.nbq.MeanNeighboringBaseQuality
   :extends org.broadinstitute.sting.gatk.walkers.annotator.interfaces.InfoFieldAnnotation))

The annotate function does the work of calculating the mean quality score. We define functions that use the GATK API to:

  • Retrieve the pileup at the current position.
  • Get the neighbor qualities from a read at a position.
  • Combine the qualities for all reads in a pileup.

With these three functions, we can use the Clojure threading macro to cleanly organize the steps of the operation as we retrieve the pileup, get the qualities and calculate the mean:

(defn -annotate
  [_ _ _ _ contexts _]
  (letfn [(get-pileup [context]
            (if (.hasExtendedEventPileup context)
              (.getExtendedEventPileup context)
              (.getBasePileup context)))
          (neighbor-qualities [[offset read]]
            (let [quals (-> read .getBaseQualities vec)]
              (map #(nth quals % nil) (range (- offset flank-bp) (+ offset flank-bp)))))
          (pileup-qualities [pileup]
            (map neighbor-qualities (map vector (.getOffsets pileup) (.getReads pileup))))]
    {"NBQ" (->> contexts
                vals
                (map get-pileup)
                (map pileup-qualities)
                flatten
                (remove nil?)
                istats/mean
                (format "%.2f"))}))

With this in place we can now run this directly using the standard GATK command line arguments. As before, we create a jar file with the new annotator, and then pass the name as a desired annotation when running the VariantAnnotator, producing a VCF file with NBQ annotations:

$ lein uberjar
$ java -jar bcbio.variation-0.0.1-SNAPSHOT-standalone.jar -T VariantAnnotator
   -A MeanNeighboringBaseQuality -R test/data/GRCh37.fa -I test/data/aligned-reads.bam
   --variant test/data/gatk-calls.vcf -o annotated-file.vcf

Access VCF variant information

In addition to extending the GATK through walkers and annotations you can also utilize the extensive API directly, taking advantage of parsers and data structures to handle common file formats. Using Clojure’s Java interoperability, the variantcontext module provides a high level API to parse and extract information from VCF files. To loop through a VCF file and print the location, reference allele and called alleles for each variant we:

  • Open a VCF source providing access to the underlying file inside a with-open statement to ensure closing of the resource.
  • Parse the VCF source, returning an iterator of VariantContext maps for each variant in the file.
  • Extract values from the map: the chromosome, start, reference allele and called alleles for the first genotype.
(use 'bcbio.variation.variantcontext)

(with-open [vcf-source (get-vcf-source "test/data/gatk-calls.vcf")]
  (doseq [vc (parse-vcf vcf-source)]
    (println (:chr vc) (:start vc) (:ref-allele vc)
             (-> vc :genotypes first :alleles)))

This produces:

MT 73 #<Allele G*> [#<Allele A> #<Allele A>]
MT 150 #<Allele T*> [#<Allele C> #<Allele C>]
MT 152 #<Allele T*> [#<Allele C> #<Allele C>]
MT 195 #<Allele C*> [#<Allele T> #<Allele T>]

I hope this tour provides some insight into the powerful tools that can be rapidly built by leveraging the GATK from Clojure. The full library contains a range of additional functionality including normalization of complex MNPs and support for phased haplotype comparisons.

Written by Brad Chapman

March 4, 2012 at 8:13 pm

Posted in analysis

Tagged with , , ,

Making next-generation sequencing analysis pipelines easier with BioCloudCentral and Galaxy integration

with 15 comments

My previous post described running an automated exome pipeline using CloudBioLinux and CloudMan, and generated incredibly useful feedback. Comments and e-mails pointed out potential points of confusion for new users deploying the process on custom data. I also had the chance to get hands on with researchers running CloudBioLinux and CloudMan during the AWS Genomics Event (talk slides are available).

The culmination of all this feedback are two new development projects from the CloudBioLinux community, aimed at making it easier to run custom analysis pipelines:

  • BioCloudCentral — A web service that launches CloudBioLinux and CloudMan clusters on Amazon Web Services hardware. This removes all of the manual steps involved in setting up security groups and launching a CloudBioLinux instance. A user only needs to sign up for an AWS account; BioCloudCentral takes care of everything else.

  • A custom Galaxy integrated front-end to next-generation sequencing pipelines. A jQuery UI wizard interface manages the intake of sequences and specification of parameters. It runs an automated backend processing pipeline with the structured input data, uploading results into Galaxy data libraries for additional analysis.

Special thanks are due to Enis Afgan for his help building these tools. He provided his boto expertise to the BioCloudCentral Amazon interaction, and generalized CloudMan to support the additional flexibility and automation on display here.

This post describes using these tools to start a CloudMan instance, create an SGE cluster and run a distributed variant calling analysis, all from the browser. The behind the scene details described earlier are available: the piepline uses a CloudBioLinux image containing a wide variety of bioinformatics software and you can use ssh or an NX graphical client to connect to the instance. This is the unique approach behind CloudBioLinux and CloudMan: they provide an open framework for building automated, easy-to-use workflows.

BioCloudCentral — starting a CloudBioLinux instance

To get started, sign up for an Amazon Web services account. This gives you access to on demand computing where you pay per hour of usage. Once signed up, you will need your Access Key ID and Secret Access Key from the Amazon security credentials page.

With these, navigate to BioCloudCentral and fill out the simple entry form. In addition to your access credentials, enter your choice of a name used to identify the cluster, and your choice of password to access the CloudMan web interface and the cluster itself via ssh or NX.


Clicking submit launches a CloudBioLinux server on Amazon. Be careful, since you are now paying per hour for your machine; remember to shut it down when finished.

Before leaving the monitoring page, you want to download a pre-formatted user-data file; this allows you to later start the same CloudMan instance directly from the Amazon web services console.

CloudMan — managing the cluster

The monitoring page on BioCloudCentral provides links directly to the CloudMan web interface. On the welcome page, start a shared CloudMan instance with this identifier:

cm-b53c6f1223f966914df347687f6fc818/shared/2012-07-23--19-23/

This shared instance contains the custom Galaxy interface we will use, along with FASTQ sequence files for demonstration purposes. CloudMan will start up the filesystem, SGE, PostgreSQL and Galaxy. Once launched, you can use the CloudMan interface to add additional machines to your cluster for processing.


Galaxy pipeline interface — running the analysis

This Galaxy instance is a fork of the main codebase containing a custom pipeline interface in addition to all of the standard Galaxy tools. It provides an intuitive way to select FASTQ files for processing. Login with the demonstration account (user: example@example.com; password: example) and load FASTQ files along with target and bait BED files into your active history. Then work through the pipeline wizard step by step to start an analysis:


The Galaxy interface builds a configuration file describing the parameters and inputs, and submits this to the backend analysis server. This server kicks off processing, distributing the analysis across the SGE cluster. For the test data, processing will take approximately 4 hours on a cluster with a single additional work node (Large instance type).

Galaxy — retrieving and displaying results

The analysis pipeline uploads the finalized results into Galaxy data libraries. For this demonstration, the example user has results from a previous run in the data library so you don’t need to wait for the analysis to finish. This folder contains alignment data in BAM format, coverage information in BigWig format, a VCF file of variant calls, a tab separate file with predicted variant effects, and a PDF file of summary information. After importing these into your active Galaxy history, you can perform additional analysis on the data, including visualization in the UCSC genome browser:


As a reminder, don’t forget to terminate your cluster when finished. You can do this either from the CloudMan web interface or the Amazon console.

Analysis pipeline details and extending this work

The backend analysis pipeline is a freely available set of Python modules included on the CloudBioLinux AMI. The pipeline closely follows current best practice variant detection recommendations from the Broad GATK team:

The pipeline framework design is general, allowing incorporation of alternative aligners or variant calling algorithms.

We hope that in addition to being directly useful, this framework can fit within the work environments of other developers. The flexible toolkit used is: CloudBioLinux with open source bioinformatics libraries, CloudMan with a managed SGE cluster, Galaxy with a custom pipeline interface, and finally Python to parallelize and manage the processing. We invite you to fork and extend any of the different components. Thank you again to everyone for the amazing feedback on the analysis pipeline and CloudBioLinux.

Written by Brad Chapman

November 29, 2011 at 8:50 pm

Posted in analysis

Tagged with , , ,

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