ASMC manual

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This page describes compiling and running the ASMC program described in the paper:

High-throughput inference of pairwise coalescence times identifies signals of selection and enriched disease heritability. P. Palamara, J. Terhorst, Y. Song, A. Price. Nature Genetics. August 2018. [paper] [preprint] [full-text]

A page with data and annotations from the paper can be found here.

Summary (TL;DR)

The Ascertained Sequentially Markovian Coalescent is a method to efficiently estimate pairwise coalescence times along the genome. It can be run using SNP array or whole-genome sequencing (WGS) data.

To run ASMC, download it here, edit ASMC/SRC/Makefile to point to your Boost library headers and binaries, or install them using sh Compile ASMC using sh To compute pairwise coalescence times for the following files containing SNP array data for 150 phased diploid samples:

  • FILES/EXAMPLE/exampleFile.n100.array.hap.gz
  • FILES/EXAMPLE/exampleFile.n100.array.samples

(see here for file formats), you can run the following ASMC command:

./ASMC \
        --decodingQuantFile FILES/DECODING_QUANTITIES/30-100-2000.decodingQuantities.gz \
        --hapsFileRoot FILES/EXAMPLE/exampleFile.n300.array \

This will generate FILES/EXAMPLE/exampleFile.n300.array.1-1.sumOverPairs.gz, which contains a matrix of size SxD, where S is the number of sites in the data, and D is the number of discrete coalescence time intervals defined in FILES/DISC/30-100-2000.disc. The [i,j]-th entry of this matrix contains the sum of posterior coalescence probabilities for all samples at SNP i and time j. A more detailed example is described here.

Download, reference, license

ASMC can be downloaded here. If you use this software, please cite:

High-throughput inference of pairwise coalescence times identifies signals of selection and enriched disease heritability. P. Palamara, J. Terhorst, Y. Song, A. Price. Nature Genetics. August 2018. [paper] [preprint] [full-text]

For any questions or comments on ASMC, please contact Pier Palamara using <lastname>

ASMC is distributed under the GNU General Public License v3.0 (GPLv3).


ASMC uses the following third party libraries.

  • SMC++ is needed if you would like to run ASMCprepareDecoding to analyze data with a non-European demographic model and/or your own time discretization or SNP allele frequencies (see this section for available precomputed models).
  • Boost is needed to run the ASMC program. You can either download and install your own version or run sh to download and build Boost v1.67.0.

The following libraries are used by the ASMCprepareDecoding program (no need to install them, they are included in the ASMCprepareDecoding.jar file):


ASMC is composed of two main programs:

  • ASMCprepareDecoding, written in Java, precomputes all the information needed to estimate pairwise coalescence time in SNP or WGS data.
  • ASMC, written in C++, estimates pairwise coalescence times in all pairs of samples in a data set.

The ASMCprepareDecoding is contained in a cross-platform Jar file and does not need compiling.

To compile the ASMC program, edit ASMC_SRC/SRC/Makefile and update the location of header and binary files for the Boost library (you should not need to do this if using was successful). Also in the Makefile, uncomment the type of SIMD instruction set you want to use, depending on what is supported by your machine. Options are NO_SSE (no SIMD instructions, slower), SSE, AVX (default, recommended), AVX512. Compile the code by running “make” in the ASMC/SRC folder, or run the script from the base folder:


Note: if ASMC compiles fine but you get errors of the kind Illegal instruction (core dumped) when running it, you should probably try selecting another type of SIMD instruction set in ASMC_SRC/SRC/Makefile.

Running ASMC

To run ASMC, you need to first compute a set of decoding quantities using the ASMCprepareDecoding program. Once you have obtained the decoding quantities, you can use them to analyze SNP or WGS data using the ASMC program.

Running ASMCprepareDecoding

The ASMCprepareDecoding precomputes all the information needed by ASMC for a given set of parameters (the decoding quantities). Detailed command line options are described here.

If you are analyzing European data and would like to use one of the time discretizations contained in the FILES/DISC/* folder, you don’t need to run ASMCprepareDecoding. You can download the corresponding set of decoding quantities as described here.

The following command builds decoding quantities for a European demogramic model, UK-Biobank SNP allele frequencies, and the 30-100-2000.disc time discretization provided in the FILES/ folder:

java -jar TOOLS/PREPARE_DECODING/ASMCprepareDecoding.jar \
        --demography FILES/CEU.demo \
        --discretization FILES/DISC/30-100-2000.disc \
        --freqFile FILES/UKBB.frq \
        --samples 100 \
        --out FILES/EXAMPLE/exampleFile.n100

The most important arguments needed by ASMCprepareDecoding to compute decoding quantities are as follows (file formats are described here):

  • A file containing the demographic history of the analyzed samples (--demography). If not specified, a default European demographic model is assumed. The demographic model should roughly match that of the analyzed population, although it needs not be extemely accurate
  • The set of discrete time intervals in which all coalescence events are assumed to occur (--discretization). This can be arbitrarily defined, or see FILES/DISC/* for some examples. Alternatively, you can specify the number of time intervals using the --coalescentQuantiles flag, and the discretization will be computed internally using quantiles of the pairwise coalescence distribution.
  • SNP allele frequencies (--freqFile). These are used to deal with the non-random ascertainment of SNPs in array data. You can input precomputed allele frequencies using the --freqFile flag (recommended). Alternatively, you can provide the path of a raw .haps file using the --fileRoot flag. Note, however, that the goal here is to compute the genome-wide allele frequency spectrum of the SNP array data, rather than using the frequency of individual SNPs, or the spectrum for a specific region.
  • The number of samples to be used in the CSFS. The default is n=300 and can be used in most analyses. This is specified here because the data set we will analyze contains only 100 samples.
  • The root for output files (--out).

The program will output two files: outFileRoot.decodingQuantities.gz and outFileRoot.intervalsInfo, described here.

Running ASMC

Once you have computed or downloaded the decoding quantities corresponding to your demographic model, time discretization, and SNP allele frequencies, you can analyze SNP or WGS data using the ASMC program:

./ASMC \
        --decodingQuantFile FILES/EXAMPLE/exampleFile.n100.decodingQuantities.gz \
        --hapsFileRoot FILES/EXAMPLE/exampleFile.n100.array \

For WGS data, add the --mode sequence option:

./ASMC \
        --decodingQuantFile FILES/EXAMPLE/exampleFile.n100.decodingQuantities.gz \
        --hapsFileRoot FILES/EXAMPLE/exampleFile.n100 \
        --majorMinorPosteriorSums \
        --mode sequence

Using the --majorMinorPosteriorSums flag, ASMC will output the sum of posterior coalescence probabilities for all analyzed pairs of individuals. These will be written in FILES/EXAMPLE/exampleFile.n100.array.{00,01,11}.sumOverPairs.gz for the SNP array example, and FILES/EXAMPLE/exampleFile.n100.{00,01,11}.sumOverPairs.gz for the WGS example.

If you are decoding a large number of samples, you can break down the computation in several jobs using the --jobs int and --jobInd int flags, which take the total number of jobs to be performed and the current job index as arguments. If you don’t speficy a name for the output files, a job index will be automatically added to the default output path. You can merge and normalize the results from all jobs using the ASMCmergePosteriorSums tool described here.

A complete example

After installing any software dependencies, you can run sh to build ASMC (or do this manually).

You can use the following commands to prepare and run ASMC using 10 jobs, and then merge the results:

# prepare the decoding quantities:
# analyze array data in 10 batches:
# merge the results of the 10 batches:

You could run the sh script to clean things up.

Detailed command line options

The full set of command line options for ASMCprepareDecoding is as follows:

List of arguments:
  Short            Long                         Explanation
  -h               --help                       Display help message
  -d file          --discretization file        File with time intervals
  -qCoal int       --coalescentQuantiles int    Number of generated time intervals
  -o fileRoot      --out fileRoot               Root of output files
  -D file          --demography file            File with demographic model
  -C file          --CSFS file                  File with precomputed CSFS
  -n int           --samples int                Number of samples in CSFS
  -mu float        --mut float                  Mutation rate used in demography
  -F file          --freqFile file              File with SNP allele frequencies
  -f fileRoot      --fileRoot fileRoot          Root of file with data to compute frequencies

Mandatory arguments:
  Must specify an option for time discretization:
        (-d file | -qCoal int)
  Must specify an option for SNP allele frequencies:
        (-f fileRoot | -F file)
  Must specify root of output files:
        -o fileRoot

In addition to the arguments described above, ASMCprepareDecoding options include:

  • -C or --CSFS, which takes a file as argument, and allows a user to load a preloaded CSFS file (e.g. generated using TOOLS/PREPARE_DECODING/ or TOOLS/PREPARE_DECODING/
  • -n or --samples, which takes an integer as argument. This is used to specify how many samples to be used in the CSFS calculations. The default is 300. Any number between 100 and 300 is reasonable, with the constraint that this should be at most equal to the number of samples contained in the data set you will analyze.
  • -mu or --mut is the mutation rate assumed when computing the demographic model (default: mu = 1.65E-8).

The full set of command line options for ASMC is as follows:

  --hapsFileRoot arg            Prefix of hap|haps|hap.gz|haps.gz and sample|samples file
  --decodingQuantFile arg       Decoding quantities file

Choose one of:
  --posteriorSums               Output file for sum of posterior distribution
                                over pairs.
  --majorMinorPosteriorSums     Output file for sum of posterior distribution 
                                over pairs, partitioned by major/minor alleles.                                

  --outFileRoot arg             Output file for sum of posterior distribution
                                over pairs (default: --hapsFileRoot argument)
  --jobs int (=0)               Number of jobs being done in parallel
  --jobInd int (=0)             Job index (
  --mode string (=array)        Decoding mode. Choose from {sequence, array}.
  --compress (=false)           Compress emission to binary (no CSFS)
  --useAncestral (=false)       Assume ancestral alleles are coded as 1 in
                                input (will assume 1 = minor otherwise)
  --skipCSFSdistance int (=0)   Genetic distance between two CSFS emissions

In addition to the arguments described above, ASMC options include:

  • --compress is a shorthand for --skipCSFSdistance Infinity (see below).
  • --useAncestral can be used to specify that a 1 in the data specifies an ancestral allele. This will cause the CSFS to be used without folding. This is mostly not needed.
  • --skipCSFSdistance int, which takes an integer argument, specifies the minimum distance for a CSFS emission to be used. The default is 0 (always use CSFS). Setting --skipCSFSdistance Infinity (which is the same as --compress) leads to never using the CSFS (i.e. the classic PSMC emission if decoding WGS data, or a binary emission which controls for ascertainment if decoding SNP array data).

Input/output file formats

You may want to look at files in FILES/* for examples of the file formats described below.

Phased haplotypes in Oxford haps/sample format (*.hap/hap.gz, samples)

File format specification.

These files are provided in input to ASMC and optionally ASMCprepareDecoding. The file format explained here. These files are output by phasing programs like Eagle and Shapeit.

Genetic map (*.map/map.gz)

The genetic map provided in input to ASMC is in Plink map format, in which each line has four columns with format “Chromosome SNPName GeneticPosition PhysicalPosition”. Genetic positions are in centimorgans, physical positions are in bp. The map can be optionally compressed using gzip.

Demographic history (*.demo)

The demographic history provided in input to ASMCprepareDecoding represents a piece-wise constant history of past effective population sizes, with format

TimeStart   PopulationSize

Where TimeStart is the first generation where the population has size PopulationSize. Note that population size is haploid, and that the demographic model is usually built assuming a specific mutation rate, which is passed as an argument to the ASMCprepareDecoding program. The first line should contain generation 0. You can obtain this model using e.g. PSMC/MSMC/SMC++. If your model is not piecewise constant, you will need to approximate it as piecewise constant. The last provided interval is assumed to last until time=Infinity (and is usually remote enough to have negligible effects on the results).

Time discretization (*.disc)

The list of discrete time intervals provided in input to ASMC contains a single number per line, representing time measured in (continuous) generations, and starting at generation 0.0. For instance, the list FILES/DISC/10.disc contains 10 time intervals:


The intervals defined in this file are: {0.0-1118.2, 1118.2-1472.2, 1472.2-1849.7, 1849.7-2497.0, 2497.0-3963.8, 3963.8-9120.8, 9120.8-15832.9, 15832.9-24139.9, 24139.9-34891.6, 34891.6-Infinity}.

Decoding quantities (*.decodingQuantities.gz)

The *.decodingQuantities.gz file is generated by ASMCprepareDecoding and input into ASMC. It is used to perform efficient inference of pairwise coalescence times. There is no need to understand the content of this file.

Time discretizzation intervals (*.intervalsInfo)

The *.intervalsInfo file is generated by the ASMCprepareDecoding and input into ASMC. It contains some useful information about the time discretization and the demographic model. It contains a number of lines corresponding to the number of discrete time intervals used in the analysis. Each line has format:

IntervalStart   ExpectedCoalescenceTime IntervalEnd

IntervalStart and IntervalEnd represent the start/end of each discrete time interval, ExpectedCoalescenceTime is the expected coalescence time for a pair of individuals who have been inferred to coalesce within this time interval, and depends on the demographic model.

Sum of pairwise posterior coalescence probabilities *.sumOverPairs.gz

The output of the ASMC analysis is written in *.{00,01,11}.sumOverPairs.gz files. Each file contains a matrix of size SxD, where S is the number of sites in the data, and D is the number of discrete time intervals used in the analysis. The [i,j]-th entry of each matrix contains the sum of posterior coalescence probabilities for all samples at SNP i and discrete coalescence time j. The output breaks down coalescence events of samples carrying different alleles at each site, using the {00,01,11} suffixes. Specifically:

  • The i-th row of the matrix in *.00.sumOverPairs.gz contains the sum of posterior probabilities for all pairs of samples that are homozygous 0 at site i.
  • The i-th row of the matrix in *.01.sumOverPairs.gz contains the sum of posterior probabilities for all pairs of samples that heterozygous at site i.
  • The i-th row of the matrix in *.11.sumOverPairs.gz contains the sum of posterior probabilities for all pairs of samples that are homozygous 1 at site i.

Tools and scripts

These are some useful tools and scripts to be used with ASMC.

Tool to merge output of parallel ASMC jobs

The folder TOOLS/MERGE_POSTERIORS/ contains the ASMCmergePosteriorSums.jar program, which may be used to merge the output of different ASMC jobs. You can type java -jar TOOLS/MERGE_POSTERIORS/ASMCmergePosteriorSums.jar -h for a list of command line options. Also see the file. This tool assumes the decoding has been done using --majorMinorPosteriorSums. You may normalize the output so that the posterior sums to 1 for each site using the --norm flag. If you used the --posteriorSums flag and you want to simply normalize the output, you can run:

zcat FILES/EXAMPLE/exampleFile.n100.array.merged.sumOverPairs.gz | \
    awk '{ c=0; for (i=1; i<=NF; i++) c+=$i; for (i=1; i<=NF; i++) $i/=c; print; }' | \
    gzip -c -v - > FILES/EXAMPLE/exampleFile.n100.array.merged.norm.sumOverPairs.gz

Script to visualize average coalescence density in a region

The folder TOOLS/PLOT_POSTERIORS/ contains the program, which can be used to visualize the coalescence posterior density in specific regions (e.g. figures 3.b, 3.c, and S7 in the ASMC paper). For an example, see the data page, where the UKBB_posteriors files can be downloaded to generate the figures from the paper.

Precomputed decoding quantities

This folder contains several sets of decoding quantities that have been precomputed by running


They are built using the European demographic model FILES/CEU.demo, SNP allele frequencies from the UK Biobank in FILES/UKBB.frq, and the time discretizations that can be found in FILES/DISC/*.disc. Some of these decoding quantities can be also found in the FILES/DECODING_QUANTITIES/ folder.

The FILES/DECODING_QUANTITIES/30-100-2000.disc and FILES/DECODING_QUANTITIES/10-20-2000.disc files contain several short time intervals in the recent generations, and the same time intervals as in 60.disc from generation 2,000 on. This enables getting more fine-grained information for recent generation, though note that smaller time intervals will contain fewer coalescent events on average.

Change log

  • July 1, 2018 – Release of ASMC v1.0.