This lesson has passed peer-review! See the publication in JOSE.

Planning for NGS Projects


Teaching: 10 min
Exercises: 10 min
  • How do I plan and organize a genome sequencing project?

  • What information does a sequencing facility need?

  • What are the guidelines for data storage?

  • Understand the data we send to and get back from a sequencing center.

  • Make decisions about how (if) data will be stored, archived, shared, etc.

Large datasets

There are a variety of ways to work with a large sequencing dataset. You may be a novice who has not used bioinformatics tools beyond doing BLAST searches. You may have bioinformatics experience with other data types and are working with high-throughput (NGS) sequence data for the first time. In the most important ways, the methods and approaches we need in bioinformatics are the same ones we need at the bench or in the field - planning, documenting, and organizing are the key to good reproducible science.

Discussion 1

Before we go any further, here are some important questions. If you are learning at a workshop, please discuss these questions with your neighbor.

Working with sequence data

What challenges do you think you’ll face (or have already faced) in working with a large sequence dataset?
Where/how will you (did you) analyze your data - what software, what computer(s)? What is your strategy for saving and sharing your sequence files?
How can you be sure that your raw data has not been unintentionally corrupted?


With large datasets is hard to have enough storage space for your data and your results, and is hard to anticipate how much disc space and processing time you need for every step of your pipelines, including intermediate files and results.
It is hard to identify errors when you have too many files and too many observations in a spreadsheet.
Some programs may not work or perform poorly with many files. Data can be protected by removing file permissions and having copies.

Sending samples to the facility

The first step in sending your sample for sequencing will be to complete a form documenting the metadata for the facility. Take a look at the following example submission spreadsheet.

Sample submission sheet

Download the file using right-click (PC)/command-click (Mac). This file is a tab-delimited text file. Try opening it with Excel or another spreadsheet program.

Exercise 1: Identifying errors

  1. What are some errors you can spot in the data? Typos, missing data, inconsistencies?
  2. What improvements could be made to the choices in naming?
  3. What are some errors in the spreadsheet that would be difficult to spot? Is there any way you can test this?



  • Sequential order of well_position changes
  • Format of client_sample_id changes and cannot have spaces, slashes, non-standard ASCII characters
  • Capitalization of the replicate column changes
  • Volume and concentration column headers have unusual (not allowed) characters
  • Volume, concentration, and RIN column decimal accuracy changes
  • The prep_date and ship_date formats are different, and prep_date has multiple formats
  • Are there others not mentioned?

Improvements in naming

  • Shorten client_sample_id names, and maybe just call them “names”
    • For example: “wt” for “wild-type”. Also, they are all “1hr”, so that is superfluous information
  • The prep_date and ship_date might not be needed
  • Use “microliters” for “Volume (µL),” etc.

Errors hard to spot:

  • No space between “wild” and “type”, repeated barcode numbers, missing data, duplicate names
  • Find by sorting, or counting

Retrieving sample sequencing data from the facility

When the data come back from the sequencing facility, you will receive some documentation (metadata) as well as the sequence files themselves. Download and examine the following example file - here provided as a text file and Excel file:

Exercise 2: Exploring sequencing metadata

  1. How are these samples organized?
  2. If you wanted to relate file names to the sample names submitted above (e.g., wild type), could you do so?
  3. What do the _R1/_R2 extensions mean in the file names?
  4. What does the ‘.gz’ extension on the filenames indicate?
  5. What is the total file size - what challenges in downloading and sharing these data might exist?


  1. Samples are organized by sample_id
  2. To relate filenames, use the sample_id and do a VLOOKUP on the submission sheet
  3. The _R1/_R2 extensions mean “Read 1” and “Read 2” of each sample
  4. The ‘.gz’ extension means it is a compressed “gzip” type format to save disk space
  5. The size of all the files combined is 1113.60 Gb (over a terabyte!). To transfer files this large, you should validate the file size following the transfer. Absolute file integrity checks following transfers and methods for faster file transfers are possible but beyond the scope of this lesson.

Storing data

The raw data you get back from the sequencing center is the foundation of your sequencing analysis. You need to keep this data so that you can always come back to it if there are any questions or if you need to re-run an analysis or try a new approach.

Guidelines for storing data

Some data storage solutions

Those are ideal locations if you have a local high-performance computing center or data storage facility on your campus or with your organization. Get in touch with those who support those facilities to ask for information.

If you don’t have access to these resources, you can back them up on hard drives. Have two backups, and keep the hard drives in different physical locations.

You can also use cloud resources; with them, you put your information in the cloud, so you won’t lose it even if you lose your computer. Some of them are Amazon S3, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud or others for cloud storage. The open science framework is a free option for storing files up to 5 GB. See more in the lesson “Introduction to Cloud Computing for Genomics”.

Apart from these cloud resources specifically for storage, other cloud services allow you to have computing capacity for data processing and analysis, larger than the capacity of a common personal computer, like the Amazon Web Services instances that we will use during this workshop.


Before data analysis has begun, there are already many potential areas for errors and omissions. Keeping organized, and keeping a critical eye can help catch mistakes.

One of Data Carpentry’s goals is to help you achieve competency in working with bioinformatics. This aim means you can accomplish routine tasks under normal conditions in an acceptable amount of time. While an expert might be able to get to a solution on instinct alone - taking your time, using Google or another Internet search engine, and asking for help are all valid ways of solving your problems. As you complete the lessons, you’ll be able to use all those methods more efficiently.

Where to go from here?

More reading about core competencies

L. Welch, F. Lewitter, R. Schwartz, C. Brooksbank, P. Radivojac, B. Gaeta and M. Schneider, ‘Bioinformatics Curriculum Guidelines: Toward a Definition of Core Competencies’, PLoS Comput Biol, vol. 10, no. 3, p. e1003496, 2014.

Key Points

  • Data being sent to a sequencing center also needs to be structured so you can use it.

  • Raw sequencing data should be kept raw somewhere, so you can always go back to the original files.