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Graph Peak Caller

Graph Peak Caller is a tool for calling transcription factor peaks on graph-based reference genomes using ChIP-seq data. Graph Peak Caller is easiest to use together with vg and can be used both as a command-line tool and as a Python module.


Graph Peak Caller is written in Python 3 and can be installed using pip:

pip3 install graph_peak_caller

Validate that the installation worked by running the command graph_peak_caller version on your command line. If everything went fine, you will see the current version of graph_peak_caller. The command graph_peak_caller -h will give you an overview of all the available subcommands.

User guide

Using Graph Peak Caller through Galaxy

Graph Peak Caller can be used through a Galaxy installation at A set of pre-generated graphs are available to use (see the welcome page at the Galaxy server for an overview). If one of these graphs suites your needs, this is the best way to use Graph Peak Caller. PS: If you would like us to include graph-based reference genomes for a new species, please contact us, e.g by opening an issue, and we will do our best.

Using Graph Peak Caller on the command line with vg

Graph Peak Caller is made to be used together with vg and take as input alignments produces by vg. Graph Peak Caller uses the Python module pyvg (installed together with Graph Peak Caller) to convert output from vg to formats compatible with Python.

If you have a single vg graph representing your reference genome, the following explains how to use Graph Peak Caller with that graph. If you have multiple vg graphs, see Advanced usage below.

Step 1: Preparing data

Convert your vg graph to json and create an Offset Based Python Graph:

vg view -Vj > graph.json
graph_peak_caller create_ob_graph graph.json

Also, convert your vg alignments to json:

vg view -aj alignments.gam > alignments.json
vg view -aj control_alignments.gam > control_alignments.json

If you don't have any vg alignments, and do not know how to produce them, check out this vg guide.

Note that even though Graph Peak Caller is typically used with vg, it is possible to convert any formats so that they an be used with Graph Peak Caller. This guide shows you how.

Step 2: Call peaks

Finally, we can call peaks by using the callpeaks command:

graph_peak_caller callpeaks -g graph.nobg -s alignments.json

If you do not have a control track, use your sample reads as control and change True to False in the above command. Changing True to False is important as Graph Peak Caller will generate the background signal in a different way when the sample is used as control.

Note that you easily can send a list of graphs and input files to run on multiple graphs. This is useful if you e.g. have one graph and one input file for each chromosome:

graph_peak_caller callpeaks -g graph_chr*.nobg -s alignments_chr*.json

On a unix command line, the * will work as a wildcard. -g and -s can also take multiple file names separated by space.


The peak caller will create various output files, some of which are less relevant and only useful for debugging. The two files containing peak information are:

  • (base_name)max_paths.intervalcollection: This file contains the peaks in a JSON format. This file can be read by graph peak caller in a Python script, e.g. by doing:
from graph_peak_caller.peakcollection import PeakCollection
peaks = PeakCollection.from_file('max_paths.intervalcollection', text_file=True)  # text_file=True since this file is not compressed
intervals = peaks.intervals  # This is now a list of all your peaks, represented as intervals in the graph
  • (base_name)sequences.fasta: This is a fasta file containing the sequences of all your peaks (requires a vg graph to be sent to the peak caller).

Often, it is useful to know the approximate position of the peaks on a linear reference genome. Graph Peak Caller has a subcommand for doing that, which requires as input a "linear path" through the graph which it will project the peaks down to. Luckily vg contains path information in (most) graphs, so it it fairly easy to extract the path:

graph_peak_caller find_linear_path -g graph.nobg vg_graph.json ref path.interval

Here ref should be the name of the path in the vg graph. Usually, this is 'ref', but it can also be the name of the chromosome that the graph is representing (which it will be if you have whole genome graphs). A linear path will be written to path.interval, and we can use that to project the peaks:

graph_peak_caller peaks_to_linear max_paths.intervalcollection path.interval chromosome linear_peaks.bed

Change chromosome to the chromosome that you want to be used when writing the bed file. Note that the position in the bed files will be the offset on the linear path. If you graph is only representing a part of a chromosome, e.g. the MHC region, they will be the offset from the beginning of MHC, and you might want to correct for that if using the bed file in further analysis.

Advanced usage

If you want to do Peak Calling on a whole-genome reference, vg will typically produce one graph for each chromosome, and it is best to divide the peak calling into one process for each chromosome. You can simply do that by sending multiple graphs and input files to the callpeaks command, but if you are running on huge data, it will be faster to start one callpeaks process for each chromosome and run these in parallel. An important thing to keep in mind then, is that each process should only run until p-values have been computed before continuing, since q-values needs to be computed from all p-values. Check out this guide for a detailed explanation on how that can be done.

Reproducing the results from the Graph Peak Caller manuscript.

Follow this guide in order to run the ChIP-seq experiments presented in the manuscript.


Graph Peak Caller is an open source project, and we warmly welcome contributions. Simply clone this repository to get started. We have a policy (for now) that Graph Peak Caller should use the same principles that Macs2 use and produce results similar to Macs2. This helps us validate the corectness of our graph-based approach and lets us focus on how "linear" principles of peak-calling can be generalized to graphs rather than spending time on inventing new peak calling principles.

Validation and testing

Benchmarking is run every night on Jenkins for several transcription factors using a Human 1000 genomes graph and a SNP+Indels graph for Drosophila Melanogaster. The latest test report should be available at this page.

When developing locally, run pytest from the project root directory of the project. Also, run ./ from the tests/mhc_test_data/ directory (requires Fimo to be available in your path) and ./ from the tests/chr22_integration_test directory to ensure that the Peak Caller is giving good results. The first is also run automatically on Travis at every push.


ChIP-seq peak caller for reads mapped to a graph-based reference genome







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