The -L argument (short for --intervals) enables you to restrict your analysis to specific intervals instead of running over the whole genome. Using this argument can have important consequences for performance and/or results. Here, we present some guidelines for using it appropriately depending on your experimental design.
- Whole genome analysis: no need to include intervals
- Whole exome analysis: you need to provide the list of capture targets (typically genes/exons)
- Small targeted experiment: you need to provide the targeted interval(s)
- Troubleshooting: you can run on a specific interval to test parameters or create a data snippet
Whatever you end up using -L for, keep this in mind: for tools that output a bam or VCF file, the output file will only contain data from the intervals specified by the -L argument. To be clear, we do not recommend using -L with tools that output a bam file since doing so will omit some data from the output.
-L 20 (for chromosome 20 in b37/b39 build)
-L chr20:1-100 (for chromosome 20 positions 1-100 in hg18/hg19 build)
It is not necessary to use -L in whole genome analysis. You should be interested in the whole genome!
Nevertheless, in some cases, you may want to mask out certain contigs (e.g. chrY or non-chromosome contigs) or regions (e.g. centromere). You can do this with -XL, which does the exact opposite of -L; it excludes the provided intervals.
By definition, exome sequencing data doesn’t cover the entire genome, so many analyses can be restricted to just the capture targets (genes or exons) to save processing time. There are even some analyses which should be restricted to the capture targets because failing to do so can lead to suboptimal results.
Note that we recommend adding some “padding” to the intervals in order to include the flanking regions (typically ~100 bp). No need to modify your target list; you can have the GATK engine do it for you automatically using the interval padding argument. This is not required, but if you do use it, you should do it consistently at all steps where you use -L.
Below is a step-by-step breakdown of the Best Practices workflow, with a detailed explanation of why -L should or shouldn’t be used with each tool.
|Tool||-L?||Why / why not|
|RealignerTargetCreator||YES||Faster since RTC will only look for regions that need to be realigned within the input interval; no time wasted on the rest.|
|IndelRealigner||NO||IR will only try to realign the regions output from RealignerTargetCreator, so there is nothing to be gained by providing the capture targets.|
|BaseRecalibrator||YES||This excludes off-target sequences and sequences that may be poorly mapped, which have a higher error rate. Including them could lead to a skewed model and bad recalibration.|
|PrintReads||NO||Output is a bam file; using -L would lead to lost data.|
|UnifiedGenotyper/Haplotype Caller||YES||We’re only interested in making calls in exome regions; the rest is a waste of time & includes lots of false positives.|
|Next steps||NO||No need since subsequent steps operate on the callset, which was restricted to the exome at the calling step.|
The same guidelines as for whole exome analysis apply except you do not run BQSR on small datasets.
You can go crazy with -L while troubleshooting! For example, you can just provide an interval at the command line, and the output file will contain the data from that interval.This is really useful when you’re trying to figure out what’s going on in a specific interval (e.g. why HaplotypeCaller is not calling your favorite indel) or what would be the effect of changing a parameter (e.g. what happens to your indel call if you increase the value of -minPruning). This is also what you’d use to generate a file snippet to send us as part of a bug report (except that never happens because GATK has no bugs, ever).
We support three types of interval lists, as mentioned here. Interval lists should preferentially be formatted as Picard-style interval lists, with an explicit sequence dictionary, as this prevents accidental misuse (e.g. hg18 intervals on an hg19 file). Note that this file is 1-based, not 0-based (first position in the genome is position 1).
One relatively easy way to combine your intervals is to use the online tool Galaxy, using the
Get Data -> Upload command to upload your intervals, and the
Operate on Genomic Intervals command to compute the intersection or union of your intervals (depending on your needs).
All analyses done with the GATK typically involve several (though not necessarily all) of the following inputs:
This article describes the corresponding file formats that are acceptable for use with the GATK.
The GATK requires the reference sequence in a single reference sequence in FASTA format, with all contigs in the same file. The GATK requires strict adherence to the FASTA standard. All the standard IUPAC bases are accepted, but keep in mind that non-standard bases (i.e. other than ACGT, such as W for example) will be ignored (i.e. those positions in the genome will be skipped).
Some users have reported having issues with reference files that have been stored or modified on Windows filesystems. The issues manifest as "10" characters (corresponding to encoded newlines) inserted in the sequence, which cause the GATK to quit with an error. If you encounter this issue, you will need to re-download a valid master copy of the reference file, or clean it up yourself.
Gzipped fasta files will not work with the GATK, so please make sure to unzip them first. Please see this article for more information on preparing FASTA reference sequences for use with the GATK.
If you are using human data, your reads must be aligned to one of the official b3x (e.g. b36, b37) or hg1x (e.g. hg18, hg19) references. The contig ordering in the reference you used must exactly match that of one of the official references canonical orderings. These are defined by historical karotyping of largest to smallest chromosomes, followed by the X, Y, and MT for the b3x references; the order is thus 1, 2, 3, ..., 10, 11, 12, ... 20, 21, 22, X, Y, MT. The hg1x references differ in that the chromosome names are prefixed with "chr" and chrM appears first instead of last. The GATK will detect misordered contigs (for example, lexicographically sorted) and throw an error. This draconian approach, though unnecessary technically, ensures that all supplementary data provided with the GATK works correctly. You can use ReorderSam to fix a BAM file aligned to a missorted reference sequence.
Our Best Practice recommendation is that you use a standard GATK reference from the GATK resource bundle.
The only input format for sequence reads that the GATK itself supports is the [Sequence Alignment/Map (SAM)] format. See [SAM/BAM] for more details on the SAM/BAM format as well as Samtools and Picard, two complementary sets of utilities for working with SAM/BAM files.
If you don't find the information you need in this section, please see our FAQs on BAM files.
If you are starting out your pipeline with raw reads (typically in FASTQ format) you'll need to make sure that when you map those reads to the reference and produce a BAM file, the resulting BAM file is fully compliant with the GATK requirements. See the Best Practices documentation for detailed instructions on how to do this.
In addition to being in SAM format, we require the following additional constraints in order to use your file with the GATK:
Below is an example well-formed SAM field header and fields (with @SQ dictionary truncated to show only the first two chromosomes for brevity):
@HD VN:1.0 GO:none SO:coordinate @SQ SN:1 LN:249250621 AS:NCBI37 UR:file:/lustre/scratch102/projects/g1k/ref/main_project/human_g1k_v37.fasta M5:1b22b98cdeb4a9304cb5d48026a85128 @SQ SN:2 LN:243199373 AS:NCBI37 UR:file:/lustre/scratch102/projects/g1k/ref/main_project/human_g1k_v37.fasta M5:a0d9851da00400dec1098a9255ac712e @RG ID:ERR000162 PL:ILLUMINA LB:g1k-sc-NA12776-CEU-1 PI:200 DS:SRP000031 SM:NA12776 CN:SC @RG ID:ERR000252 PL:ILLUMINA LB:g1k-sc-NA12776-CEU-1 PI:200 DS:SRP000031 SM:NA12776 CN:SC @RG ID:ERR001684 PL:ILLUMINA LB:g1k-sc-NA12776-CEU-1 PI:200 DS:SRP000031 SM:NA12776 CN:SC @RG ID:ERR001685 PL:ILLUMINA LB:g1k-sc-NA12776-CEU-1 PI:200 DS:SRP000031 SM:NA12776 CN:SC @PG ID:GATK TableRecalibration VN:v2.2.16 CL:Covariates=[ReadGroupCovariate, QualityScoreCovariate, DinucCovariate, CycleCovariate], use_original_quals=true, defau t_read_group=DefaultReadGroup, default_platform=Illumina, force_read_group=null, force_platform=null, solid_recal_mode=SET_Q_ZERO, window_size_nqs=5, homopolymer_nback=7, except on_if_no_tile=false, pQ=5, maxQ=40, smoothing=137 UR:file:/lustre/scratch102/projects/g1k/ref/main_project/human_g1k_v37.fasta M5:b4eb71ee878d3706246b7c1dbef69299 @PG ID:bwa VN:0.5.5 ERR001685.4315085 16 1 9997 25 35M * 0 0 CCGATCTCCCTAACCCTAACCCTAACCCTAACCCT ?8:C7ACAABBCBAAB?CCAABBEBA@ACEBBB@? XT:A:U XN:i:4 X0:i:1 X1:i:0 XM:i:2 XO:i:0 XG:i:0 RG:Z:ERR001685 NM:i:6 MD:Z:0N0N0N0N1A0A28 OQ:Z:>>:>2>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>?>>>>??>???> ERR001689.1165834 117 1 9997 0 * = 9997 0 CCGATCTAGGGTTAGGGTTAGGGTTAGGGTTAGGG >7AA<@@C?@?B?B??>9?B??>A?B???BAB??@ RG:Z:ERR001689 OQ:Z:>:<<8<<<><<><><<>7<>>>?>>??>??????? ERR001689.1165834 185 1 9997 25 35M = 9997 0 CCGATCTCCCTAACCCTAACCCTAACCCTAACCCT 758A:?>>8?=@@>>?;4<>=??@@==??@?==?8 XT:A:U XN:i:4 SM:i:25 AM:i:0 X0:i:1 X1:i:0 XM:i:2 XO:i:0 XG:i:0 RG:Z:ERR001689 NM:i:6 MD:Z:0N0N0N0N1A0A28 OQ:Z:;74>7><><><>>>>><:<>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> ERR001688.2681347 117 1 9998 0 * = 9998 0 CGATCTTAGGGTTAGGGTTAGGGTTAGGGTTAGGG 5@BA@A6B???A?B??>B@B??>B@B??>BAB??? RG:Z:ERR001688 OQ:Z:=>>>><4><<?><??????????????????????
The GATK requires that the BAM file be sorted in the same order as the reference. Unfortunately, many BAM files have headers that are sorted in some other order -- lexicographical order is a common alternative. To resort the BAM file please use ReorderSam.
If you don't find the information you need in this section, please see our FAQs on interval lists.
The GATK accept interval files for processing subsets of the genome in Picard-style interval lists. These files typically have an extension such as
'.list' or more explicitly,.interval_list`, and look like this:
@HD VN:1.0 SO:coordinate @SQ SN:1 LN:249250621 AS:GRCh37 UR:http://www.broadinstitute.org/ftp/pub/seq/references/Homo_sapiens_assembly19.fasta M5:1b22b98cdeb4a9304cb5d48026a85128 SP:Homo Sapiens @SQ SN:2 LN:243199373 AS:GRCh37 UR:http://www.broadinstitute.org/ftp/pub/seq/references/Homo_sapiens_assembly19.fasta M5:a0d9851da00400dec1098a9255ac712e SP:Homo Sapiens 1 30366 30503 + target_1 1 69089 70010 + target_2 1 367657 368599 + target_3 1 621094 622036 + target_4 1 861320 861395 + target_5 1 865533 865718 + target_6 ...
consisting of aSAM-file-like sequence dictionary (the header), and targets in the form of
<chr> <start> <stop> + <target_name>. These interval lists are tab-delimited. They are also 1-based (first position in the genome is position 1, not position 0). The easiest way to create such a file is to combine your reference file's sequence dictionary (the file stored alongside the reference fasta file with the
.dict extension) and your intervals into one file.
You can also specify a list of intervals formatted as
<chr>:<start>-<stop> (one interval per line). No sequence dictionary is necessary. This file format also uses 1-based coordinates.
Finally, we also accept BED style interval lists. Warning: this file format is 0-based for the start coordinates, so coordinates taken from 1-based formats should be offset by 1.
The GATK can associate arbitrary reference ordered data (ROD) files with named tracks for all tools. Some tools require specific ROD data files for processing, and developers are free to write tools that access arbitrary data sets using the ROD interface. The general ROD system has the following syntax:
name is the name in the GATK tool (like "eval" in VariantEval),
type is the type of the file, such as VCF or dbSNP, and
file is the path to the file containing the ROD data.
The GATK supports several common file formats for reading ROD data:
Note that we no longer support the PED format. See here for converting .ped files to VCF.