I’ve been using Python programs to manage NGS sample pipelines for a while, and while it started slowly, they’re in a state in which the code is much more reliable and I can work much faster.

A big part of it was due to some simple object modeling of projects and samples. Here’s the basics of what I implemented. See the full code at github.

A Project object

In its simplest form, a project object holds attributes and defines and creates (if necessary) a directory structure. Here’s how I chose to structure my projects:

| |___plots

So, all the Project object takes as argument is name and parent. The structure is then created when __init__ (which is called automatically upon creation of the object), calling in its turn setProjectDirs and makeProjectDirs.

import os as _os

class Paths(object):
"""A class to hold paths as attributes."""

class Project(object):
"""A class to model a project.

:param name: Project name.
:type name: str
:param parent: Path to where the project structure will be created.
:type parent: str

def __init__(self, name, parent):
super(Project, self).__init__()
self.name = name
self.dirs = Paths()


def setProjectDirs(self):
"""Atributes directories for the project."""
self.dirs.root = _os.path.join(self.dirs.parent, self.name)
self.dirs.runs = _os.path.join(self.dirs.root, "runs")
self.dirs.pickles = _os.path.join(self.dirs.runs, "pickles")
self.dirs.executables = _os.path.join(self.dirs.runs, "executables")
self.dirs.logs = _os.path.join(self.dirs.runs, "logs")
self.dirs.data = _os.path.join(self.dirs.root, "data")
self.dirs.results = _os.path.join(self.dirs.root, "results")
self.dirs.plots = _os.path.join(self.dirs.results, "plots")

def makeProjectDirs(self):
"""Creates project directory structure if it doesn't exist."""
for name, path in self.dirs.__dict__.items():
if not _os.path.exists(path):

A Sample object

I decided to have my Sample objects created from a Pandas Series, since sample annotation sheet are often in tabular form and can easily be read with Pandas.

I wanted something like:

import pandas as pd

series = pd.Series(
["ChIP-seq", "hg19", "/data/samples/test.bam"],
index=["technique", "genome", "unmappedBam"]
sample = Sample(series)

I first considered creating Sample inheriting from pandas.Series to take advantage of its already implemented methods, but in the end it was lacking some features (tab-completion in iPython wasn’t showing the methods I defined). Also, compatibility with new Pandas versions was not guarenteed. Therefore, I simply assign the pandas Series attributes to a new Sample object.

The directory structure if sample-centric: all files from a sample are under a sample-specific directory, and then, other sub-directories hold more specific files:

class Sample(object):
Class to model NGS samples.

:param series: Pandas `Series` object.
:type series: pandas.Series

def __init__(self, series):
# Passed series must either be a pd.Series or a daughter class
if not isinstance(series, _pd.Series):
raise TypeError("Provided object is not a pandas Series.")
super(Sample, self).__init__()

# Set series attributes on self
for key, value in series.to_dict().items():
setattr(self, key, value)

self.dirs = Paths()

def setFilePaths(self):
"""Sets the paths of all files for this sample."""
self.dirs.sampleRoot = _os.path.join(self.project.dirs.data, self.name)

# Files in the root of the sample dir
self.fastqc = self.dirs.sampleRoot
# Unmapped: merged bam, fastq, trimmed fastq
self.dirs.unmapped = _os.path.join(self.dirs.sampleRoot, "unmapped")
self.unmapped = _os.path.join(self.dirs.unmapped, self.name + ".bam")
self.fastq = _os.path.join(self.dirs.unmapped, self.name + ".fastq")
self.trimmed = _os.path.join(self.dirs.unmapped, self.name + ".trimmed.fastq")
# Mapped: mapped, duplicates marked, removed, reads shifted
self.dirs.mapped = _os.path.join(self.dirs.sampleRoot, "mapped")
self.mapped = _os.path.join(self.dirs.mapped, self.name + ".trimmed.bowtie2.bam")
self.filtered = _os.path.join(self.dirs.mapped, self.name + ".trimmed.bowtie2.filtered.bam")

def makeSampleDirs(self):
"""Creates sample directory structure if it doesn't exist."""
for path in self.dirs.__dict__.values():
if not _os.path.exists(path):

Sample methods

I create some useful methods for the samples.

I check if it contains required attributes and if these aren’t nan:

def checkValid(self):
"""Check if any of its important attributes is None."""
req = ["technique", "genome", "unmappedBam"]

if not all([hasattr(self, attr) for attr in req]):
raise ValueError("Required values for sample do not exist.")

if any([attr == "nan" for attr in req]):
raise ValueError("Required values for sample are empty.")

I create a name for a sample from every non-nan attribute it might contain from a specific list:

def generateName(self):
"""Generates a name for the sample by joining some of its possible attribute strings."""
self.name = "_".join(
[str(self.__getattribute__(attr)) for attr in [
"cellLine", "numberCells", "technique", "ip",
"patient", "patientID", "sampleID", "treatment", "condition",
"biologicalReplicate", "technicalReplicate",
"experimentName", "genome"] if hasattr(self, attr) and str(self.__getattribute__(attr)) != "nan"]

A SampleSheet object

Obviously, always creating a new Pandas Series, just to pass it to Sample does not make much sense.

I created a new class which loads a sample annotation sheet form a csv file and creates samples from it.

class SampleSheet(object):
Class to model a sample annotation sheet.

:param csv: Path to csv file.
:type csv: str

def __init__(self, csv):

super(SampleSheet, self).__init__()
# TODO: checks on given args
self.csv = csv
self.samples = list()

def checkSheet(self):
Check if csv file exists and has all required columns.

self.df = _pd.read_csv(self.csv)
except IOError("Given csv file couldn't be read.") as e:
raise e

req = ["technique", "genome", "unmappedBam"]
missing = [col for col in req if col not in self.df.columns]

if len(missing) != 0:
raise TypeError("Annotation sheet is missing columns: %s" % " ".join(missing))

SampleSheet methods

Obviously methods to create samples from the SampleSheet (either from a single pandas Series or from the whole sheet:

    def makeSample(self, series):
Make a children of class Sample dependent on its "technique" attribute.

:param series: Pandas `Series` object.
:type series: pandas.Series
:return: An object or class `Sample` or a child of that class.
:rtype: pipelines.Sample

if technique in ["chipseq", "atac-seq"]:
return Sample(series)
raise TypeError("Sample is not in known technique.")

def makeSamples(self):
Creates samples from annotation sheet dependent on technique and adds them to the project.

for i in range(len(self.df)):

Two methods to revert to a csv file (to_csv like in a pandas.DataFrame) and to get a new data frame from the already created samples (asDataFrame):

    def asDataFrame(self):
Returns a `pandas.DataFrame` representation of self.

return _pd.DataFrame([s.asSeries() for s in self.samples])

def to_csv(self, path, all=False):
Saves a csv annotation sheet from the samples.

:param path: Path to csv file to be written.
:type path: str
:param all: If all sample attributes should be kept in the annotation sheet.
:type all: bool

self.asDataFrame().to_csv(path, index=False)

Binding them all

Ideally one would:

  1. create a Project;
  2. add a csv file to it in a new method which would create a SampleSheet object. This would:
    1. Make new Sample objects for each sample, creating its attributes and directory structure;
    2. Add the Sample objects to a container in Project.
class Project(object):
def addSampleSheet(self, csv):
Build a `SampleSheet` object from a csv file and
add it and its samples to the project.

:param csv: Path to csv file.
:type csv: str

# Make SampleSheet object
self.sheet = SampleSheet(csv)

# pair project and sheet
self.sheet.project = self

# Generate sample objects from annotation sheet

# Add samples to Project
for sample in self.sheet.samples:

Practical examples

Here’s a step in an example pipeline which runs Fastqc on (unmapped) bam files from all samples:

from pipelines import Project, SampleSheet

def fastqc(inputBam, outputDir, sampleName):
return "fastqc --noextract --outdir {0} {1}".format(outputDir, inputBam)

prj = Project("ngs")

for sample in prj.samples:
cmd = fastqc(sample.unmappedBam, sample.dirs.sampleRoot, sample.name)
os.system(cmd) # in real-life one wouldn't use `os.system`

Notice the absent use of file paths in the pipeline. Although still pretty simple, it is now much simpler to handle every file created by the pipeline for each sample.

These objects are also useful during analysis steps to quickly grab files produced by the pipeline and start an analysis right away.

Here I grab all ChIP-seq peak files from all samples and create a peak set by concatenating them all and merging:

from pipelines import Project, SampleSheet
import pybedtools

prj = Project("ngs")

for i, sample in enumerate(self.samples):
# Get peaks
peaks = pybedtools.BedTool(sample.peaks)
# Merge overlaping peaks within a sample if existing
peaks = peaks.merge()
if i == 0:
sites = peaks
# Concatenate all peaks
sites = sites.cat(peaks)

# Merge overlaping peaks across samples
sites = sites.merge()
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