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Preparing and Validating Molecular Data

Molecular data files are submitted in conjunction with necessary, descriptive data about molecular files and samples, called metadata. The DCC requires that metadata is submitted at the same time as the molecular data to facilitate automated downstream analysis. Metadata is submitted in JSON format, called a payload. The payload is validated against a JSON Schema to ensure data quality. This metadata is submitted to the ARGO metadata repository, called Song. To prepare the molecular metadata, you will need to follow these steps:

  1. Prepare metadata payloads according to the correct format (described below).
  2. Validate the metadata payload(s) and molecular files with the ARGO seq-tools client.
  3. Once the metadata has passed validation, both the metadata payload and the molecular data files can be submitted together.

Preparing Metadata Payloads

Understanding the Payload Format

The first step of submitting molecular data is to prepare the metadata payloads conforming to the most recent JSON Schema that has been defined by the DCC. You can find the most recent schema using this request:

curl --location --request GET ''

The main types of submission are for Tumour and Normal samples; each of these types has a specific set of data rules to follow in the metadata format. The following are examples of correctly formatted payloads for both Tumour and Normal sample types:

"studyId": "DASH-CA",
"analysisType": {
"name": "sequencing_experiment"
"samples": [
"submitterSampleId": "dashsa-1",
"matchedNormalSubmitterSampleId": null,
"sampleType": "Amplified DNA",
"specimen": {
"submitterSpecimenId": "dashsp-1",
"specimenType": "Normal",
"tumourNormalDesignation": "Normal",
"specimenTissueSource": "Blood derived"
"donor": {
"submitterDonorId": "DASH-1",
"gender": "Male"
"files": [
"dataType": "Submitted Reads",
"fileName": "dash-1-normal.bam",
"fileSize": 24,
"fileType": "BAM",
"fileMd5sum": "4d6e35e3290ccce08c8c7517dc29d624",
"fileAccess": "controlled"
"read_group_count": 1,
"read_groups": [
"file_r1": "dash-1-normal.bam",
"file_r2": null,
"insert_size": null,
"is_paired_end": false,
"library_name": "Library-Testing",
"platform_unit": "Library-Testing",
"read_length_r1": null,
"read_length_r2": null,
"sample_barcode": null,
"submitter_read_group_id": "dash-1-rg-1"
"experiment": {
"submitter_sequencing_experiment_id": "DASH-SE-1",
"experimental_strategy": "WGS",
"sequencing_center": "",
"platform": "ILLUMINA",
"platform_model": null,
"sequencing_date": null

See github for the same examples of a correctly formatted payload from a normal sample and a tumour sample.

Depending on the type of sequencing that was done, the read_groups section of the payload will need to be adjusted. The following are examples of correctly formatted read_groups that meet the rules for paired-end vs single-end sequencing:

  "read_group_count": 1,
"read_groups": {
"read_group_id_in_bam": "C0HVY.2",
"submitter_read_group_id": "C0HVY.2",
"platform_unit": "74_8a",
"is_paired_end": true,
"file_r1": "test_rg3.bam",
"file_r2": "test_rg3.bam",
"read_length_r1": 150,
"read_length_r2": 125,
"insert_size": 232,
"sample_barcode": null,
"library_name": "Pond-147579"

File and Data Validation Rules

Sequencing data of both BAM and FASTQ type files are accepted, with the exception of interleaved FASTQ files. Metadata payloads like the example above must follow these data validations:

  1. Compression of FASTQ files is required; both gzip (suffix *.fq.gz or *.fastq.gz) or bz2 (suffix *.fq.bz2 or *.fastq.bz2) are supported.
  2. For both FASTQ and BAM submissions, all files in the files section must be unique in the payload.
  3. All read_groups in the payload and BAM header must belong to a single sample.
  4. All submitter_read_group_id must be unique across the payload.
  5. read_group_id_in_bam must be unique within a single BAM.
  6. platform_units must be unique across the payload with a one-to-one relationship with submitter_read_group_id.
  7. The total number of read_group objects must match the number specified in read_group_count.
  8. For FASTQ paired-end sequencing, both file_r1 and file_r2 are required. file_r1 and file_r2 must not be the same file.
  9. For BAM paired-end sequencing, both file_r1 and file_r2 are required. These must be the same file.
  10. For single-end sequencing, only file_r1 is required (file_r2 must be populated with null).
  11. For FASTQ submission, no file can appear more than once in file_r1 or file_r2 across read group objects.

Understanding the Payload Fields


Required indicates a field that must be included in the metadata payload or it will immediately fail submission.

The metadata payload is broken down into 4 sections: experiment, samples, read groups and files, with all other fields being at the root level. Each section must be submitted in the payload.

The samples section contains details of the clinical data and key sample descriptors related to the submitted files. In order to submit a metadata payload, samples must be registered in the ARGO Data Platform. For permissible values of all fields in the samples section, please see the Sample Registration file of the Data Dictionary. If the data for a sample is different than what has been registered, metadata submission will fail.

A description of all other payload sections is shown below:

Payload FieldPayload SectionAttributeDescriptionPermissible Values
studyIdRequiredARGO Program ID, the unique identifier of your program. If you have logged into the ARGO Data Platform, this is the Program ID that you see in the Program Services area.
analysisTypeRequiredThe type of molecular data that is being submitted in the payload.sequencing_experiment
submitter_sequencing_ experiment_idexperimentRequiredThe unique identifier of the sequencing experiment.String values that meet the regular expression ^[a-zA-Z0-9]{1}[a-zA-Z0-9\\-_\\.:']{0,98}[a-zA-Z0-9]{1}$ or null.
platformexperimentRequiredThe sequencing platform type used in data generation.CAPILLARY, LS454, ILLUMINA, SOLID, HELICOS, IONTORRENT, ONT, PACBIO, Nanopore, BGI
platform_modelexperimentThe model number of the sequencing machine used in data generation.Any string value or null.
experimental_strategyexperimentRequiredThe primary experimental method. For sequencing data it refers to how the sequencing library was made.WGS, WXS, RNA-Seq, Bisulfite-Seq
sequencing_dateexperimentDate sequencing was performed.datetime format, for example: 2019-06-16 or 2019-06-16T20:20:39+00:00
read_group_countRequiredThe number of read groups in the molecular files being submitted.A minimum of 1 is required.
read_group_id_in_bamread_groupsOptional field indicating the @RD ID in the BAM. If submitted, this will be used to map the @RG ID in the BAM header to the submitter_read_group_id in the payload. This cannot be submitted for FASTQ files.String value must meet the regular expression ^[a-zA-Z0-9\\-_:\\.']+$ or null.
submitter_read_ group_idread_groupsRequiredThe identifier of a read group; must be unique within each payload. After submission, the submitter_read_group_id in the payload will be used for all future @RG ID in the header.String values that meet the regular expression ^[a-zA-Z0-9\\-_:\\.']+$.
platform_unitread_groupsRequiredUnique identifier including the {FLOWCELL_BARCODE}.{LANE}.{SAMPLE_BARCODE}. The {FLOWCELL_BARCODE} refers to the unique identifier for a particular flow cell. The {LANE} indicates the lane of the flow cell and the {SAMPLE_BARCODE} is a sample/library-specific identifier. For non-multiplex sequencing, platform unit and read group have a one-to-one relationship.Any string value.
is_paired_endread_groupsRequiredIndicate if paired-end sequencing was performed.true, false
file_r1read_groupsRequiredName of the sequencing file containing reads from the first end of a sequencing run.Any string value. Must match a fileName identified in the files section.
file_r2read_groupsRequiredName of the sequencing file containing reads from the second end of a paired-end sequencing run. Required if and only if paired-end sequencing was done.Any string value or null. Must match a fileName identified in the files section.
read_length_r1read_groupsRequiredLength of sequencing reads in file_r1; this corresponds to the number of sequencing cycles of the first end.Integer with a minimum value of 20 or null.
read_length_r2read_groupsRequiredLength of sequencing reads in file_r2; this corresponds to the number of sequencing cycles of the second end.Integer with a minimum value of 20 or null.
insert_sizeread_groupsRequiredFor paired-end sequencing, the average size of sequences between two sequencing ends. Required only for paired-end sequencing.Integer with a minimum value of 0 or null.
sample_barcoderead_groupsRequiredAccording to the SAM specification, this is the expected barcode bases as read by the sequencing machine in the absence of errors.Any string value or null.
library_nameread_groupsRequiredName of a sequencing library made from a molecular sample or a sample pool (multiplex sequencing).Any string value.
fileNamefilesRequiredName of the file.String values must meet the regular expression ^[A-Za-z0-9_\\.\\-\\[\\]\\(\\)]+$. No paths are allowed in the file name.
fileSizefilesRequiredSize of the file, in bytes.
fileMd5sumfilesRequiredComputed md5sum of the file. This must match the payload, and the md5sum computed when the file is uploaded.String values must meet the regular expression ^[a-fA-F0-9]{32}$
fileTypefilesRequiredData format of sequencing files.BAM, FASTQ
fileAccessfilesRequiredThe permission level of a file for public, controlled
dataTypefilesRequiredDescriptor of the type of file being submitted.Submitted Reads

Validating Metadata Payloads

It is very important that molecular data is submitted with valid metadata. As a helpful tool during metadata preparation, we have prepared a validation client that can be run on your data locally before officially submitting.

Validation will help you ensure your data is formatted correctly (with accurate identifier assignments between metadata and molecular data files) and that your submission goes smoothly. It also helps the DCC ensure that the downstream Analysis Pipelines will function seamlessly.

This validation client will check:

  • Metadata in the payload aligns with the BAM/FASTQ files.
  • Each submission is for a single sample.
  • Each payload is formatted according to the data validation rules stated above.

Installing the Validation Client

A pre-requisite is to have the samtools package installed, which is used to retrieve BAM header information. To read JSON/JSONL outputs in a friendly manner, we also suggest installing the jq package.

sudo apt install samtools
sudo apt install jq

Once samtools is installed, clone the repository:

git clone

Using pip, install seq-tools:

cd seq-tools
pip3 install -r requirements.txt # installs Python dependencies
pip3 install . # installs seq-tools

You can verify that the installation worked by checking the version:

seq-tools -v

To update the client to the latest version, pull the latest version of the repository and run:

git pull
cd seq-tools
pip3 install .

Structured Directory Validation

One method to quickly complete validation is to structure your data in a predetermined format that seq-tools is expecting. Under a submission directory (e.g. molecular-data-submission in the following example), compile each submission as a folder, with the JSON payload and the associated data files in the same folder.

Each submission folder must contain:

  • The metadata payload as a .json file. Only one .json file must be present in the submission folder.
  • All molecular data files associated to that payload, or symlinks to their location.

For example: Example Directory Structure

Once your data is ready, make sure you are under the parent folder of the submission directory and use seq-tools to validate all of the data:

seq-tools validate molecular-data-submission/*/*.json

You will see an interactive prompt of the results of validation of each metadata payload as the tool runs. Once completed, view the details of the validation reports under the current folder:

cat validation_report.PASS.jsonl | jq . | less
cat validation_report.INVALID.jsonl | jq . | less

Scriptable Location Validation

If data files are located in a different directory than where the metadata payloads are listed, and you do NOT want to reorganize them into the above structured directory, you can use the '-d' option to provide the data files location. You can also use this to validate all metadata payloads in a directory at once using a wildcard.

For example: Example Non-Directory Structure

seq-tools validate -d ../sequencing-data-directory/ metadata_file_only/sequencing_experiment_payload.json

seq-tools validate -d ../sequencing-data-directory/ submission-payload-directory/*/*.json

You can use these methods to build your own script to validate payloads in different locations.

Understanding the Validation Report

Validation report summaries can be found in the folder where you ran seq-tools. Reports are separated into three categories:

  • PASS: This status indicates that the payload(s) are ready for submission.

  • PASS-with-WARNING: This status indicates that the payload(s) are ready for submission, however there may be a parameter you want to double check before submission.

  • INVALID: This status indicates that the payload(s) are not ready for submission.

  • PASS: This status indicates that these payload(s) are ready for submission.

  • PASS-with-WARNING: This status indicates that these payload(s) are ready for submission, however there may be a parameter you want to double check before submission.

  • INVALID: This status indicates that these payload(s) are not ready for submission.

In the INVALID summary report, each reason for failure is listed. Errors must be fixed before you attempt to submit this payload. To view all reports that are generated:

cat validation_report.PASS.jsonl | jq . | less # view details for PASS metadata files
cat validation_report.INVALID.jsonl | jq . | less # view details for PASS-with-WARNING metadata files
cat validation_report.PASS-with-WARNING.jsonl | jq . | less # view details for PASS metadata files