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High-Throughput BLAST

This tutorial will put together several OSG tools and ideas - handling a larger data file, splitting a large file into smaller pieces, and transferring a portable software program.

Job components and plan

To run BLAST, we need three things: 1. the BLAST program (specifically the blastx binary) 2. a reference database (this is usually a larger file) 3. the file we want to query against the database

The database and the input file will each get special treatment. The database we are using is large enough that we will want to use OSG Connect's stashcache capability (more information about that here). The input file is large enough that a) it is near the upper limit of what is practical to transfer, b) it would take hours to complete a single blastx analysis for it, and c) the resulting output file would be huge.

Because the BLAST process is run over the input file line by line, it is scientifically valid to split up the input query file, analyze the pieces, and then put the results back together at the end! By splitting the input query file into smaller pieces, each of the queries can be run as separate jobs. On the other hand, BLAST databases should not be split, because the blast output includes a score value for each sequence that is calculated relative to the entire length of the database.

Get materials and set up files

Run the tutorial command:

tutorial blast-split

Once the tutorial has downloaded, move into the folder and run the script to download the remaining files:

cd tutorial-blast-split

This command will have downloaded and unzipped the BLAST program (ncbi-blast-2.9.0+), the file we want to query (mouse_rna.fa) and a set of tools that will split the file into smaller pieces (gt-1.5.10-Linux_x86_64-64bit-complete).

Next, we will use the command gt from the genome tools package to split our input query file into 2 MB chunks as indicated by the -targetsize flag. To split the file, run this command:

./gt-1.5.10-Linux_x86_64-64bit-complete/bin/gt splitfasta -targetsize 2 mouse_rna.fa

Later, we'll need a list of the split files, so run this command to generate that list:

ls mouse_rna.fa.* > list.txt

Examine the submit file

The submit file, blast.submit looks like this:

executable =
arguments = $(inputfile)
transfer_input_files = ncbi-blast-2.9.0+/bin/blastx, $(inputfile), stash:///osgconnect/public/osg/BlastTutorial/pdbaa.tar.gz

output = logs/job_$(process).out
error = logs/job_$(process).err
log = logs/job_$(process).log

requirements = OSGVO_OS_STRING == "RHEL 7" && Arch == "X86_64"

request_memory = 2GB
request_disk = 1GB
request_cpus = 1

queue inputfile from list.txt

The executable is a script that runs blast and takes in a file to query as its argument. We'll look at this script in more detail in a minute.

Our job will need to transfer the blastx executable and the input file being used for queries, shown in the transfer_input_files line. Because of the size of our database, we'll be using stash:/// to transfer the database to our job.

Note on stash:///: In this job, we're copying the file from a particular /public folder (osg/BlastTutorialV1), but you have your own /public folder that you could use for the database. If you wanted to try this, you would want to navigate to your /public folder, download the pdbaa.tar.gz file, return to your /home folder, and change the path in the stash:/// command above. This might look like:

cd /public/username wget cd /home/username

Finally, you may have already noticed that instead of listing the individual input file by name, we've used the following syntax: $(inputfile). This is a variable that represents the name of an individual input file. We've done this so that we can set the variable as a different file name for each job.

We can set the variable by using the queue syntax shown at the bottom of the file:

queue inputfile from list.txt

This command will pull file names from the list.txt file that we created earlier, and submit one job per file and set the "inputfile" variable to that file name.

Examine the wrapper script

The submit file had a script called


# get input file from arguments

# Prepare our database and unzip into new dir
tar -xzvf pdbaa.tar.gz
rm pdbaa.tar.gz

# run blast query on input file
./blastx -db pdbaa/pdbaa -query $inputfile -out $inputfile.result

It saves the name of the input file, unpacks our database, and then runs the BLAST query from the input file we transferred and used as the argument.

Submit the jobs

Our jobs should be set and ready to go. To submit them, run this command:

condor_submit blast.submit

And you should see that 51 jobs have been submitted:

Submitting job(s)................................................
51 job(s) submitted to cluster 90363.

You can check on your jobs' progress using condor_q

Bonus: a BLAST workflow

We had to go through multiple steps to run the jobs above. There was an initial step to split the files and generate a list of them; then we submitted the jobs. These two steps can be tied together in a workflow using the HTCondor DAGMan workflow tool.

First, we would create a script ( that does the file splitting steps:


./gt-1.5.10-Linux_x86_64-64bit-complete/bin/gt splitfasta -targetsize $filesize mouse_rna.fa
ls mouse_rna.fa.* > list.txt

This script will need executable permissions:

chmod +x

Then, we create a DAG workflow file that ties the two steps together:

## DAG: blastrun.dag
JOB blast blast.submit
SCRIPT PRE blast 2

To submit this DAG, we use this command:

condor_submit_dag blastrun.dag