I want to call peaks using MACS2 on my paired-end ATAC-seq BAM and I am interested in cutting sites. So I make use of the -BAM option (opposed to the -BAMPE) option. However this throws away all the mates, and all the reads of which the mate did not align (that's more than 50%!!!). My idea was to align paired-end, and then remove all the information from the BAM that it is paired-end. So my question is how do I:

Convert paired-end BAM into a single-end BAM and keep all the reads

I made a start based on the SAM-format specification , but when I run the result of this script through markduplicates I get the error:

ERROR: Record 1, Read name SRR6245286.60336908., MRNM should not be set for unpaired read.

I can not find what this MRNM is...

This is my code I used to generate the faulty 'single-end' bam, but I am open to suggestions (e.g. bash, preferably no R).

import pysam

paired =         1
proper_pair =    2
mate_unmapped =  8
mate_reverse =   32
first_in_pair =  64
second_in_pair = 128

bam_in = pysam.AlignmentFile("/vol/atacpipeline/bwa/GSM2837489-danRer7.samtools-coordinate.bam", "rb")
bam_out = pysam.AlignmentFile("/vol/atacpipeline/bwa/GSM2837489-danRer7_SE.samtools-coordinate.bam", "wb", template=bam_in)
for line in bam_in:
    if line.flag & second_in_pair:
        line.pos += line.template_length
    line.next_reference_id = 0
    line.next_reference_start = 0
    line.flag &= ~(paired + proper_pair + mate_unmapped + mate_reverse + first_in_pair + second_in_pair)

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ That error is probably from Picard, making it irrelevant. Your script should work fine for macs2. $\endgroup$
    – Devon Ryan
    Aug 19, 2019 at 8:00
  • $\begingroup$ @DevonRyan Yep, my bad. Everything works just fine as is with macs2. Still weird that picard does not accept the file, but that is another problem. $\endgroup$ Aug 20, 2019 at 11:46
  • $\begingroup$ Picard is incredibly picky :( $\endgroup$
    – Devon Ryan
    Aug 20, 2019 at 13:15

2 Answers 2


Like Devon pointed out, most likely you should sort out whether the files have been marked for duplicates correctly.

You can also use samtools rmdup too

samtools rmdup <bamfile> <output>

Also, I find it very odd that 50% of the reads are lost when you keep only properly paired reads.

I would suggest removing the duplicates and then converting the bam file to a bed file. Macs2 can take in the bed format. Any extremely crude python script that converts a bam into a bed:

import pysam
samfile = pysam.AlignmentFile("test.bam", "rb")
open("test.bed", 'w').close()
f = open("test.bed", "a")
STRAND = ["+","-"]
for read in samfile.fetch():
    STR = STRAND[int(read.is_reverse)]
    BED =[read.reference_name,read.pos,read.reference_end,".",read.mapq,STR]
    f.write('\t'.join([str(i) for i in BED]))

You can also try the conversion with bedtools or definitely refine that script above with pandas etc.

  • $\begingroup$ The problem with macs2 if you look for cutting sites is that they throw away all the mates (which is 50% of you reads) + only keeps properly aligned. So that is at least 50%. I'll take a look at changing it into bed and see how that works. Thanks $\endgroup$ Aug 19, 2019 at 11:27

MRNM stands for "Mate reference index". So Picard found something in the RNEXT field which should be set only for paired-end reads but the rest of the file looks like single-end.

The problematic line in your code is:

line.next_reference_id = 0

This sets the RNEXT SAM field to whatever Pysam stores as a reference with index 0 (next_reference_id). This is not the same as reference name (next_reference_name). In single-end SAM file this field should be set to *. You cannot set * with next_reference_id but you can set it with next_reference_name:

line.next_reference_name = "*" 

I would also recommend to change next_reference_start line to:

line.next_reference_start = -1 

just to be sure Pysam handles this field as not set (I tried to put there 0 Pysam changed it to 1 for some reason). I would also add line:

line.template_length = -1

because this field should also be empty in single-end SAM.

This worked in my case. If Picard keeps complaining you can add VALIDATION_STRINGENCY=LENIENT or SILENT to your Picard command to suppress exiting of the command at errors.


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