Ximmer Simulations


This section explains how to configure Ximmer to simulate CNVs.

The configuration for simulations is done via a configuration file. This file is written in a simple configuration format which is a subset of groovy programming language syntax, so it is common to call it config.groovy, which will give syntax highlighting in editors and other environments.

Specifying BAM Files

The first step is to indicate where the BAM or CRAM files are for the samples you wish to process. You can set the path to these files using a simple wildcard expression as a string:


You can also set these as a list, in which case all of the locations will be included:


Specifying the Target Region

The next most important aspect to configure is the target regions of the genome over which reads are expected, through the target_region setting:


Specifying Simulation Type

Before you start simulating you should decide which simulation method you want to use. Ximmer offers two alternative mechanisms:

  • by taking input files (BAM/CRAM format) and downsampling them over sequential target regions to create artificial “single copy deletions”.
  • by taking female input files (again, CRAM/BAM format) and replacing all the reads aligned to sections of the X chromosome with reads from the same segment in a male sample. For this to be valid, normalisation needs to be done to make the read counts comparable before swapping the reads between samples.

Downsampling has the advantage that it works anywhere in the genome, and also can be performed on any mix of sexes. However it is arguably not as accurate as using the true difference in copy number represented by the X chromosome in males and females. If you’re just starting out, downsampling as fewer requirements, so this may be the easier way to get going.

You should specify in your configuration file which kind you want of the following:

  • replace
  • downsample
  • none



Note: The none simulation type is intended for cases where you wish to reanalyse pre-existing simulated data, or data that has a known set of identified CNVs in it. For that case, you should be specifying the known CNVs via the known_cnvs attribute (see below). When you specify none, Ximmer will not create new BAM files and instead will run the analysis directly on the source BAM files.

Disabling Simulation

If you have data that already has simulated (or real!) CNVs then you can still have Ximmer to run in “simulation mode”, but without generating new data with more CNVs. In this case, the correct configuration is to set simulation_type to the the correct kind of simulation (eg: downsample), but to then set an explicit flag that disables simulation, simulation_enabled=false. For example:

simulation_enabled = false

Specifying CNV Sizes

One of the most important aspects of CNV detection is what size of event you are looking to find. If you are after single exon deletions, for example, you may end up needing quite different settings to those you would have for detecting megabase size events. Accordingly, you can set how big you want the CNVs to be that Ximmer creates. In Ximmer this is controlled by setting the number of target regions to include in each event. (Note that Ximmer will never begin or end a simulated CNV inside a target region). The number of regions is specified using a range with .. syntax. For example, to specify that CNVs should be between 5 and 20 target regions in size, the following setting would be used:


Specifying how many CNVs to Simulate in each Sample

By default Ximmer will only simulate 1 CNV per sample. This minimises the potential interference in accurate detection through contamination of the normalisation methods by additional CNVs in each sample. However it is less efficient and means that you need more simulated BAM files than you will if you simulate more CNVs in each BAM. You can change the number using:


Ximmer will randomly select the number of target regions to include in each CNV from this range. Note that these will not always be exactly honored because sometimes the ranges chosen are expanded if there is continuous read coverage between the target regions. Since they are sometimes made larger, but never smaller, you will generally see that the result is slightly inflated compared to the range you select here.

Specifying Sample Sex

For X-replacement to work, Ximmer needs to known which samples are female and which are male. You don’t have to specify sample sex: if you don’t, Ximmer will guess it by counting the number of reads on the X, Y and non-sex chromosomes. However this takes some non-trivial computing resources and can sometimes be inaccurate, so Ximmer allows you to specify this. There are two ways to specify it: you can supply a PED file:


Or in a samples section in the configuration:

samples {
    males = [

    females = [

Note that these sample ids must overlap those found in the BAM files that you specify as input files.

Note: you can also use this method to make your simulation or analysis operate on a subset of the samples provided in the BAM files you specify. This can be useful if you have a single large directory of BAM files but you want to analyse or simulate from only a portion of them.

Anonymising Samples

In some situations you may want to obfuscate the relationship between the input samples and the output samples. For example, if the sample identifiers in your BAM files would potentially compromise privacy or lead to risk of incidential findings. Ximmer has an option to ‘anonymise’ samples by generating artificial sample ids in the simulated data:


Note: as with all anonymisation of genetic data, sample id masking is only surface level anonymisation and will not prevent reidentification through other features of the data.

Specifying Number of Runs

Getting access to enough samples to generate good power for determining accuracy can sometimes be difficult if you do not sequence a large number of samples. To help with this, Ximmer allows you to increase the number of CNVs simulated in two dimensions:

  • Increase the number of CNVs simulated per sample - this can help but is limited especially for small targeted panels as you will not want to simulate CNVs too close together, nor to simulate too many in any individual sample as this will bias read counts away from normal overall and thus compromise the simulation accuracy

To set the number of CNVs per sample to simulate use the deletionsPerSample option:

  • Reuse each sample multiple times. This concept is referred to as having “multiple runs”, because you are running the simulation itself multiple times and aggregating the results.

To specify multiple runs, set the runs parameter in the configuration file to an integer indicating how many times to use each sample. Eg:


Specifying Known CNVs

By default Ximmer assumes that every CNV that is detected but not a simulated CNV is a false positive. This, of course, is not true because samples can have real CNVs in them. It is also important to avoid simulating a CNV on top of another CNV. For this reason, Ximmer allows you to specify known CNVs in a BED-like tab-separated format consisting of columns:

  • chromosome
  • start position
  • end position
  • sample id

Note: in the current code, the type of CNV (duplication vs deletion) is not specified; an event will be counted as a true positive if it is detected overlapping the known CNV even if the type of event detected is wrong.

Downsampling to a Target Coverage

One factor that can heavily affect performance of CNV calling is the coverage depth of the data. To allow you to understand the effect of coverage on accuracy, Ximmer allows you to downsample the coverage in your simulated samples to a specified level. To do this, set the targetCoverage parameter. For example:

targetCoverage = 50

Obviously, Ximmer can only downsample reads, not “upsample” them, so you will need to ensure that the targetCoverage you specify is less than the actual mean coverage of the samples you provide. Note that target coverage can be specified per-run, so you can configure multiple coverage levels for comparison in a single simulation (see below).

Note also that due to the mechanism that Ximmer uses, there may be as much as 20% variation around the targeted level.

Advanced: Using Per-Run Settings

A more advanced configuration option exists that lets you specify multiple runs using different source files for each run. In this case, set the runs attribute to a sub-configuration containing specific known_cnvs and bam_files entries for each run. Each sub-configuration can be tagged with a specific name to make it recognisable in the results:

runs {
    "sim0_1" { 
    "sim0_2" { 
    "sim3_1" { 

This option is very useful if you have already simulated some data with Ximmer and you want to reuse that data without changing the original analysis. You can point Ximmer to the specific BAM files and true positive bed files created from the previous simulation, and then Ximmer will use these instead of simulating new ones.

Specifying Analysis Settings

After Ximmer simulates CNVs in the sample data, it then runs the configured CNV callers on the data to test the sensitivity and specificity of each caller. The settings for how the CNV callers are run are specificed by two blocks:

  • callers which defines which callers are run and the default settings to use
  • analyses (optional) which defines groups of settings to use when running each CNV caller.

See the Analysis section for details about how to configure these sections in detail.

Using CRAM Format

CRAM format saves a lot of space but requires that a reference sequence be specified.

This needs to be configured in two places for CRAM format to work:

  • Set the correct FASTA file for the reference in eval/pipeline/config.groovy
  • Set the environment variable XIMMER_REF to the absolute path of the FASTA reference file, eg:
export XIMMER_REF=/path/to/your/reference.fasta

Full Configuration Example

 * Ximmer Example Configuration
 * This example simulates CNVs in exome data from the Simons Simplex 
 * collection. It then runs 4 CNV callers on the output data in 4 different
 * configurations and creates a report comparing the sensitivity and 
 * specificity of each caller and configuration. The simulation incorporates
 * a set of known CNVs published along with the data into the process.

title="Test Simulation"






// Number of separate runs to complete



samples {
    females = [

dgv {
    max_freq = 0.01
    min_study_size = 5

callers {
    xhmm {
    exomedepth { transition_probability=0.0001 }
    cnmops { prior_impact=10; min_width=2; lower_threshold=-0.8 }
    conifer { conifer_svd_num=1 }

analyses {
    '1' {
        xhmm { exome_wide_cnv_rate=1e-04 }
        exome_depth { transition_probability=0.01 }
        conifer { conifer_svd_num=2 }
        cnmops { prior_impact=5 }
    '2' {
        xhmm { exome_wide_cnv_rate=1e-02 }
        exome_depth { transition_probability=0.000001 }
        conifer { conifer_svd_num=4 }
        cnmops { prior_impact=20 }
    '3' {
        xhmm { exome_wide_cnv_rate=1e-04; xhmm_pve_mean_factor=0.9 }
        cnmops { prior_impact=5;  lower_threshold=-0.6 }
    '4' {
        xhmm { exome_wide_cnv_rate=1e-04; xhmm_pve_mean_factor=0.5 }
        cnmops { prior_impact=5;  lower_threshold=-0.4 }