BIGwas: Single-command quality control and association testing for multi-cohort and biobank-scale GWAS/PheWAS data

Kässens J C, Wienbrandt L, Ellinghaus D
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Background: Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) and phenome-wide association studies (PheWAS) involving 1 million GWAS samples from dozens of population-based biobanks present a considerable computational challenge and are carried out by large scientific groups under great expenditure of time and personnel. Automating these processes requires highly efficient and scalable methods and software, but so far there is no workflow solution to easily process 1 million GWAS samples.

Results: Here we present BIGwas, a portable, fully automated quality control and association testing pipeline for large-scale binary and quantitative trait GWAS data provided by biobank resources. By using Nextflow workflow and Singularity software container technology, BIGwas performs resource-efficient and reproducible analyses on a local computer or any high-performance compute (HPC) system with just 1 command, with no need to manually install a software execution environment or various software packages. For a single-command GWAS analysis with 974,818 individuals and 92 million genetic markers, BIGwas takes ∼16 days on a small HPC system with only 7 compute nodes to perform a complete GWAS QC and association analysis protocol. Our dynamic parallelization approach enables shorter runtimes for large HPCs.

Conclusions: Researchers without extensive bioinformatics knowledge and with few computer resources can use BIGwas to perform multi-cohort GWAS with 1 million GWAS samples and, if desired, use it to build their own (genome-wide) PheWAS resource. BIGwas is freely available for download from and

Keywords: GWAS; Nextflow; PheWAS; Singularity; association testing; biobank; pipeline; quality control; scalability.

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