mapDamage: tracking and quantifying damage patterns in ancient DNA sequences

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Users with versions dating prior to June 12 2013 please update. A nasty bug that caused the statistical part of mapDamage to use half of the data for estimation of the damage parameters, sorry for the inconvenience.


  • Introduction
  • News in version 2.0
  • Inputs
  • Output files
  • Examples and datasets
  • Usage
  • Web interface (
  • Description of tables
  • Graphical outputs
  • Citation
  • FAQ
  • Contact

  • Introduction

    mapDamage2 is a computational framework written in Python and R, which tracks and quantifies DNA damage patterns among ancient DNA sequencing reads generated by Next-Generation Sequencing platforms.

    mapDamage is developed at the Centre for GeoGenetics by the Orlando Group.


    • Python (version >= 2.6)
    • Git
    • R (version >= 2.15.1) must be present in your $PATH. Otherwise, only tables will be produced.
    • pysam (version >= 0.6) python package, an interface for reading/writing SAM/BAM files
    • Cython package, only necessary if pysam needs to be built
    • gsl GNU scientific library (GSL)
    • R libraries:

    Of note, the R libraries and the GSL library are only required for the statistical estimation of DNA damage parameters. A stripped-down version of seqtk is included in this package for fast computation of reference base composition, it is written by Heng Li and can be found at here at github.


    mapDamage2 was successfully tested on GNU/Linux and MacOSX environments. For MacOSX, you can follow the following guidelines written by mapDamage users.

    1. Install git:
      Follow the instructions available at git (with installers/packages available for all major operating systems).

    2. First time installation for mapDamage:
      Either clone the repository from GitHub
      git clone or
      download a tarball/zip archives for a specific release.
      go into the resulting folder
      cd mapDamage

      Continue the procedure by running the following command if you have administrator rights
      sudo python install
      otherwise install it locally
      python install --user
      then, $HOME/.local/bin must be in your PATH.

    3. Install pysam:
      Download the tarball archive for pysam. Untar the downloaded tar file and follow instructions in the pysam-XXX/INSTALL text file. Cython is necessary if pysam needs to be built.
      It is recommend to check if the pysam installation seems okay before proceeding with the following command
      python -c "import pysam"
      If nothing appears, then proceed.

    4. Install R:
      Follow the instructions available at R project (with installers/packages available for all major operating systems).

    5. Install the R packages:
      By running in a R console and selecting a CRAN mirror:

    6. Install the GSL library gsl:
      For Debian-based distros use the following command.
      sudo apt-get install libgsl0-dev
      There should be a equivalent package for Mac using fink or macports.

    7. Install RcppGSL:
      In a R session do the following
      If the installation of RcppGSL ended with an unsuccessfully then, download the tarball at RcppGSL and install it with:
      install.packages("RcppGSL_0.2.2.tar.gz", repo = NULL)
      Another alternative for downloading this package is to use the author's mirror archive
    8. Note that if steps 4-6 fail for some reason, then it is possible to utilize mapDamage without the statistical function.

    Update mapDamage

    When mapDamage is already git-installed, you can get the latest version using git pull.
  • Pull from the git repository:
    go into the git folder
    cd /path/to/mapDamage
    Check updates at GitHub and download them if any
    git pull
    If there is no updates, the command returns: Already up-to-date.
    If the last line looks like: 4 files changed, 49 insertions(+), 35 deletions(-)
    you can proceed with the next step.
  • Install downloaded newer version:

    Install the updated version if needed, by running the following command if you have administrator rights
    sudo python install
    otherwise install it locally
    python install --user

  • News in version 2.0


    • The main new feature is the approximate bayesian estimation of damage parameters.
      The idea behind the summary approach in mapdamage 2.0 is depicted in this figure:

    • The following four key damage parameters are estimated in Bayesian manner:
      1. Lambda, the probability of termating an overhang.
      2. DeltaD, the cytosine deamination probability in double strand context.
      3. DeltaS, the cytosine deamination probability in single strand context.
      4. Theta, the mean difference rate between the reference and the sequenced sample not due to DNA damage.
    • The --rescale parameter can be optionally used to rescale quality scores of likely damaged positions in the reads. A new BAM file is constructed by downscaling quality values for misincorporations likely due to ancient DNA damage according to their initial qualities, position in reads and damage patterns.
    • The program was rewritten in python to make it simpler and the dependency on bedtools was replaced by the use of pysam. The memory footprint is now negligible and runtime reduced by ca. 25%.
    • It is now possible to filter out nucleotides with qualities inferior to a threshold defined by users, allowing users to reduce the impact of sequencing errors when counting misincorporations.



    Two files are needed:

    • A valid SAM/BAM file with a correct header, as argument to the -i option.
    • A FASTA file that contains reference sequences used for mapping reads, as argument to the -r option.

    References described in the SAM/BAM header and the FASTA file must be coherent, i.e, the references must have identical names and lengths. Extra sequences present in the FASTA header raise a warning but the program will proceed since all necessary references are available.

    As an alternative, one can run only the plotting, statistic estimations or rescaling on an already processed dataset. Use a combination of -d option followed by a valid folder and the --plot-only, --stats-only or --rescale-only options.

    Paired ends

    We assume the pairs are facing inwards when counting the position specific misincorporations and rescaling quality scores. An additional assumption in the rescaling process is the pairs are non-overlapping. Make sure the pairing information in the BAM/SAM file is correct as we rely on the paired end information provided by the file. We advise not using non-overlapping paired ends coming from highly degraded samples (small template lengths) as they are likely contamination.

    Output files


    When all options are activated, 16 files are produced in the result folder.

    • Runtime_log.txt, log file with a summary of command lines used and timestamps.

    For the plotting:

    • Fragmisincorporation_plot.pdf, a pdf file that displays both fragmentation and misincorporation patterns.
    • Length_plot.pdf, a pdf file that displays length distribution of singleton reads per strand and cumulative frequencies of C->T at 5'-end and G->A at 3'-end are also displayed per strand.
      Important remark: paired-ended reads are not considered for this analysis since the plot displays the distribution of read lengths and not insert sizes of paired-ended reads. For this last purpose, one can use the dedicated Picard tool CollectInsertSizeMetrics.
    • misincorporation.txt, contains a table with occurrences for each type of mutations and relative positions from the reads ends.
    • 5pCtoT_freq.txt, contains frequencies of Cytosine to Thymine mutations per position from the 5'-ends.
    • 3pGtoA_freq.txt, contains frequencies of Guanine to Adenine mutations per position from the 3'-ends.
    • dnacomp.txt, contains a table of the reference genome base composition per position, inside reads and adjacent regions.
    • lgdistribution.txt, contains a table with read length distributions per strand.

    For the statistical estimation:

    • Stats_out_MCMC_hist.pdf, MCMC histogram for the damage parameters and log likelihood.
    • Stats_out_MCMC_iter.csv, values for the damage parameters and log likelihood in each MCMC iteration.
    • Stats_out_MCMC_trace.pdf, a MCMC trace plot for the damage parameters and log likelihood.
    • Stats_out_MCMC_iter_summ_stat.csv, summary statistics for the damage parameters estimated posterior distributions.
    • Stats_out_post_pred.pdf, empirical misincorporation frequency and posterior predictive intervals from the fitted model.
    • Stats_out_MCMC_correct_prob.csv, position specific probability of a C->T and G->A misincorporation is due to damage.
    • dnacomp_genome.txt, contains the global reference genome base composition (computed by seqtk).
    • Rescaled BAM file, where likely post-mortem damaged bases have downscaled quality scores.

    Examples and datasets


    A simple command line that would process the entire BAM file with plotting and statistic estimation is:

    mapDamage -i mymap.bam -r myreference.fasta

    To run the plotting part with a new scale to fit lower levels of DNA damages, 0.1 as y-limit instead of 0.3 by default:

     mapDamage -d results_mydata -y 0.1 --plot-only

    Running the rescaling of the quality scores taking into account the damage estimates:

     mapDamage -i mymap.bam -r myreference --rescale

    To run the statistical estimation using only the 5'-ends and with verbose output:

     mapDamage -d results_mydata --forward --stats-only -v

    For further examples and usage introduction see the supplementary material chapter in the mapDamage2.0 manuscript.



    Usage: mapDamage [options] -i BAMfile -r reference.fasta
    Use option -h or --help for help
       --version             show program's version number and exit
       -h, --help            show this help message and exit
    Input files:
        -i FILENAME, --input=FILENAME
                             SAM/BAM file, must contain a valid header, use '-' for reading a BAM from stdin
        -r REF, --reference=REF
                            Reference file in FASTA format
    General options:
        -n DOWNSAMPLE, --downsample=DOWNSAMPLE
                            Downsample to a randomly selected fraction of the reads (if 0 < DOWNSAMPLE < 1), 
                            or a fixed number of randomly selected reads (if DOWNSAMPLE >= 1). By default, 
                            no downsampling is performed.
    --downsample-seed   Seed value to use for downsampling. See documentation for py module 'random' for default behavior.
        -l LENGTH, --length=LENGTH
                            read length, in nucleotides to consider [70]
        -a AROUND, --around=AROUND
                            nucleotides to retrieve before/after reads [10]
        -Q MINQUAL, --min-basequal=MINQUAL
                            minimun base quality Phred score considered, Phred-33 assumed [0]
        -d FOLDER, --folder=FOLDER
                        folder name to store results [results_FILENAME]
        -f, --fasta         Write alignments in a FASTA file
        --plot-only         Run only plotting from a valid result folder
        -q, --quiet         Disable any output to stdout
        -v, --verbose       Display progression information during parsing
    Options for graphics:
        -y YMAX, --ymax=YMAX
                            graphical y-axis limit for nucleotide misincorporation frequencies [0.3]
        -m READPLOT, --readplot=READPLOT
                            read length, in nucleotides, considered for plotting nucleotide 
                            misincorporations [25]
        -b REFPLOT, --refplot=REFPLOT
                            the number of reference nucleotides to consider for ploting base 
                            composition in the region located upstream and downstream of 
                            every read [10]
        -t TITLE, --title=TITLE
                            title used for both graph and filename [plot]
    Options for the statistical estimation:
        --rand=RAND         Number of random starting points for the likelihood optimization [30]
        --burn=BURN         Number of burnin iterations [10000]
        --adjust=ADJUST     Number of adjust proposal variance parameters iterations [10]
        --iter=ITER         Number of final MCMC iterations [50000]
        --forward=FORWARD   Using only the 5' end of the seqs [False]
        --reverse=REVERSE   Using only the 3' end of the seqs [False]
        --fix-disp=FIX_DISP Fix dispersion in the overhangs [True]
        --diff-hangs        The overhangs are different for 5' and 3'  [False]
                            Fix the nick frequency vector nu else estimate it with GAM [False]
        --jukes-cantor      Use Jukes Cantor instead of HKY85
                            Single stranded protocol [False]
                            How long sequence to use from each side [12]
        --stats-only        Run only statistical estimation from a valid result folder
        --rescale           Rescale the quality scores in the BAM file using the output from
                            the statistical estimation
        --rescale-only      Run only rescaling from a valid result folder
        --no-stats          Disabled statistical estimation, active by default

    Web interface

    Anna Kostikova from insideDNA implemented a web interface for mapDamage.
    Users can adjust the cloud ressources in terms of RAM/CPU to perform their analysis. She wrote a tutorial explaining how to use this web interface (sign up required).

    Description of tables


    misincorporation table

    This file looks like:

    # table produced by mapDamage version 2.0
    # using mapped file hits_sort_mts.bam and NC_012920.fasta as reference file
    # Chr: reference from sam/bam header, End: from which termini of DNA sequences, Std: strand of reads
    Chr End Std Pos A   C   G   T   Total   G>A C>T A>G T>C A>C A>T C>G C>A T>G T>A G>C G>T A>- T>- C>- G>- ->A ->T ->C ->G S
    NC_012920.1 3p  +   1   424 579 201 424 1628    48  16  3   5   1   0   2   1   0   2   1   0   0   0   0   0   4   4   1   1   0
    NC_012920.1 3p  +   2   466 535 213 404 1618    30  12  2   1   0   1   0   0   3   3   1   0   0   0   0   0   2   6   5   7   0
    NC_012920.1 3p  +   3   514 463 223 417 1617    35  15  3   1   1   0   0   0   1   0   1   1   0   0   0   2   9   4   4   4   0
    NC_012920.1 3p  +   4   514 483 221 400 1618    30  11  3   4   0   1   1   0   0   1   0   1   1   0   0   2   5   5   8   2   0

    The first lines that start by a hash contain information about the options used while processing the data. Then, the table contains occurrences of the 12 mutation type + 4 deletions + 4 insertions + soft-clipping for each combination of reference (Chr column), strand (Std column) , end (End column) and position (Pos column). In Z->X, Z comes from the reference, X is the nucleotide from reads. The columns A, C, G and T are the respective reference base count and Total is the sum of the four reference nucleotides. Frequencies depicted in Fragmisincorporation_plot.pdf file are computed per position as follows

    #occurrences of mutations / #occurrences of the reference nucleotide

    in order to compensate for reference base composition bias along the positions.

    In this example, for G>A substitutions at the first base from the 3'-ends and for the positive strand: 48 / 201 = 0.238806

    The Fragmisincorporation plot sums up misincorporations for all references and strand orientations, finally displays the frequencies per sequencing position.

    5p means reads analyzed from their 5'-ends and are depicted at the bottom left.

    3p means reads analyzed from their 3'-ends and are depicted at the bottom right.

    Remark concerning soft-clipping:

    Soft-clipped bases are bases located at read extremities that are NOT aligned to the reference. Those bases are not taken into account and alignments are computed on aligned bases. However, the soft-clipped bases are recorded and displayed as an orange line as a diagnostic for users. Even if, the positions for those bases are different from positions of all misincorporations, they should warn users that reads should be trimmed if soft-clipped base frequencies is high.

    dnacomp table

    Example table below:

    # table produced by mapDamage version 2.0
    # using mapped file hits_sort_mts.bam and NC_012920.fasta as reference file
    # Chr: reference from sam/bam header, End: from which termini of DNA sequences, Std: strand of reads
    Chr End Std Pos A   C   G   T   Total
    NC_012920.1 3p  +   -70 113 77  43  181 414
    NC_012920.1 3p  +   -69 178 140 97  233 648
    NC_012920.1 3p  +   -68 230 145 98  219 692
    NC_012920.1 3p  +   -67 217 157 76  272 722
    NC_012920.1 3p  +   -66 224 188 88  239 739
    NC_012920.1 3p  +   -65 244 165 104 262 775
    NC_012920.1 3p  +   -64 223 185 102 288 798

    The first lines that start by a hash contain information about the options used while processing the data. Then, the table contains occurrences for each nucleotides, per reference (Chr column), per strand (Std column) , per end (End column) and per position (Pos column).

    At a given position, base composition is recorded either for the reference or for reads depending on the position and direction. The following table details which sequences and coordinates are used by default:

    Positions 5p 3p
    negative values reference, -10 to -1 reads, -25 to -1
    positive values reads, +1 to +25 reference, +1 to +10

    Stats_out_MCMC_iter_summ_stat table

    This table contains the MCMC output of the five model parameters (depending on options) and log likelihood. The mean, standard deviation and quantiles per 2.5% interval of the MCMC posterior simulations are reported. The acceptance ratio (ratio of acceptances in the MCMC iterations) for each model parameter is calculated and depicted in the file and should be around 0.2. The companion file Stats_out_MCMC_iter.csv contains all the values obtained for each MCMC iteration and is available in graphical format as a histogram or a traceplot. Example table below (the file is actually comma separated, here depicted with tabulations for clarity purposes):

    	Theta			DeltaD			DeltaS			Lambda			Rho			LogLik
    Mean	0.0129715432214025	0.0276128283764782	0.506870702430984	0.236778993065734	0.0429440323801133	-290.436006736216
    Std.	0.000727998242592221	0.0016991302193519	0.0186911963483404	0.0112842920128649	0.0061180619558739	1.59627579978557
    Acceptance ratio	0.1659	0.28692			0.17708			0.17222			0.21354			0.6781
    0%	0.010343780887111	0.0200009808935262	0.443618434348717	0.196608727957609	0.024062021508867	-303.394224826161
    2.5%	0.0115779148051722	0.0242216196897948	0.471593745448078	0.215033292540976	0.0316283681609979	-294.415675536748
    5%	0.0117929060844704	0.0247964028136441	0.476538261177338	0.218032838581406	0.0334894928201135	-293.50800575224
    7.5%	0.0119301611221827	0.0251693761425478	0.480224681410536	0.220351157627141	0.0345977332183658	-292.980765571483
    10%	0.0120425513929948	0.0254336747705529	0.48309367716994	0.222245004085287	0.0354838414161916	-292.586815783461
    12.5%	0.0121442465603967	0.0256581391709088	0.485339023472775	0.223852846490496	0.0361775294966489	-292.277395952081

    Stats_out_MCMC_correct_prob table

    This table contains the position-specific probability of observing a C->T or a G->A due to a post-mortem damage.
    Example table below (the file is actually comma separated, here depicted with tabulations for clarity purposes):

    Position	C.T			G.A
    1	1	0.980784246710695	0.65527195218869
    2	2	0.97568346676245	0.71352845563181
    3	3	0.969521194936301	0.743638120957285
    4	4	0.962170583850572	0.766805824762406
    5	5	0.953542075730188	0.787010580221663
    6	6	0.943631337701685	0.803957830256353
    7	7	0.932671721032529	0.81529717262592
    8	8	0.921048902653476	0.82189320180069
    9	9	0.909252012734666	0.825047159166101

    Graphical outputs


    Visualizing damage patterns

  • The mis-incorporation plot already produced by mapdamge1.0 was slighly modified:

    Sample E522. The four upper mini-plots show the base frequency outside and in the read (the open grey box corresponds to the read). The bottom plots are the positions' specific substitutions from the 5" (left) and the 3" end (right). See Schuenemann et al. (2011) for more detailed information regarding the original data.

  • An additional plot for the length distributions of singletons is now produced:

    Sample E522. The upper two plots are histograms of the read lengths. The lower two plots are the empirical cumulative frequency of C->T and G->A misincorporations, normalized by the first 70 positions. See Schuenemann et al. (2011) for more detailed information regarding the original data.

  • Quantification of damage patterns

  • Fit of the model to the observed mis-incorporation patterns:

    Sample E522.The empirical misincorporation frequencies and simulated posterior predictive intervals from the fitted model are depicted. See Schuenemann et al. (2011) for more detailed information regarding the original data.

  • Posterior distributions of estimated parameters:

    Sample E522. Simulated posterior distributions of the five model parameters and log likelihood. See Schuenemann et al. (2011) for more detailed information regarding the original data.

  • Trace plot of estimated parameters:

    Sample E522. MCMC trace plots of the five model parameters and log likelihood. See Schuenemann et al. (2011) for more detailed information regarding the original data.

  • Citation

    If you use this program, please cite the following publication:
    Jónsson H, Ginolhac A, Schubert M, Johnson P, Orlando L. mapDamage2.0: fast approximate Bayesian estimates of ancient DNA damage parameters. Bioinformatics 2013. 23rd April 2013. doi: 10.1093/bioinformatics/btt193

    The original mapDamage1 is described in the following article:
    Ginolhac A, Rasmussen M, Gilbert MT, Willerslev E, Orlando L. mapDamage: testing for damage patterns in ancient DNA sequences. Bioinformatics 2011 27 (15):2153-2155

    Schuenemann VJ, Bos K, DeWitte S, Schmedes S, Jamieson J, Mittnik A, Forrest S, Coombes BK, Wood JW, Earn DJ, White W, Krause J, Poinar HN. Targeted enrichment of ancient pathogens yielding the pPCP1 plasmid of Yersinia pestis from victims of the Black Death. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2011 108:E746-52. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1105107108.


    Q: I got this error: could not find function "ggtitle"

    A: update your ggplot2 package to at least version 0.9.2 by running:
    and selecting a CRAN mirror

    Q: Why do I do not get the Lengh_plot.pdf file? (or only a blank page)

    A: This is likely you are using paired-end reads. The length distribution is performed only for single-end reads using their lengths. In theory, paired-end reads could also be used but we think this does not represent the real insert size and could be misleading. Best results are obtained by using merged paired-end reads (mapped as single-end), so when the full inserts are sequenced.

    Q: How to clone the development version from github?

    A: Use the following commands

    git clone --recursive

    Q: Where is the original version of mapDamage?

    A: The original web page with examples, datasets and result files is here:



    Please report bugs and suggest possible improvements to Aurélien Ginolhac, Mikkel Schubert or Hákon Jónsson by email: ginolhac at, MSchubert at or jonsson.hakon at