Data in Cloud Storage

At this time, all controlled-access data files are stored in Google Cloud Storage (GCS) in their original form, as obtained from the data repository. This includes these major data types and formats:

  • RNA-Seq FASTQ files (unaligned reads, typically compressed tar-files)
  • DNA-Seq and RNA-Seq BAM files (aligned reads)
  • Genome-Wide SNP6 array CEL files
  • Variant-calls in VCF files

In order to access these controlled data, a user of the ISB-CGC must first be authenticated by NIH (via the ISB-CGC web-app). Upon successful authentication, the users’s dbGaP authorization will be verified. These two steps are required before the user’s Google identity is added to the access control list (ACL) for the controlled data. At this time, this access must be renewed every 24 hours.

Summary of Data Available in GCS

Format Data Type # of Files Total Size
BAM DNA-Seq 73487 1407 TB
BAM RNA-Seq 47818 216 TB
FASTQ RNA-Seq 13207 91 TB
CEL DNA (SNP6) 22529 1.6 TB
VCF DNA-Seq 47319 0.5 TB

Working with data in GCS

Working with large-scale data hosted by the ISB-CGC in Google Cloud Storage requires some familiarity with tools such as the Google Cloud SDK, Google Compute Engine, Virtual Machines and Docker.

Please see our DIY Workshop and in particular the section on “Computing in the Cloud” for additional references and tutorial material.

Our metadata tables in BigQuery can be used to explore the available data and choose which BAM files you’re most interested in working with – before you take on processing an entire petabyte of data! Feel free to email us at with questions.

BAM-slicing in the Cloud

BAM files can vary in size from close to 1 TB down to 1 MB, and frequently a researcher is only interested in extracting a small slice of the entire sequence. This is referred to as “BAM-slicing” and the latest release (1.4) of the htslib library adds the capability to perform BAM-slicing directly on BAM files in GCS to widely used tools such as samtools. (You will need to build with --enable-libcurl to enable support for access to data both in GCS and S3.) This new functionality allows you to run, for example:

$ ./samtools view gs://isb-ccle-open/gdc/0a109993-2d5b-4251-bcab-9da4a611f2b1/C836.Calu-3.2.bam 7:140453130-140453140

If you want to access a controlled-access BAM file, you’ll need to provide credentials first:

$ export GCS_OAUTH_TOKEN=`gcloud auth application-default print-access-token`

If you run into problems, it’s a good idea to verify that you have the correct url and also that you have access to this file by using the gsutil command-line tool from the cloud SDK:

$ gsutil ls -l gs://isb-ccle-open/gdc/0a109993-2d5b-4251-bcab-9da4a611f2b1/C836.Calu-3.2.bam

Other Options for BAM-slicing

The NCI-GDC has also implemented a BAM-slicing API on top of their data repository. This API can be accessed programmatically as documented here or interactively on any of the file-specific data-portal pages like this one for a TCGA-BRCA whole-exome BAM file. (The “BAM Slicing” button is in the upper right corner of the page.)

The GA4GH API provides another option to BAM-slicing, and has been implemented by Google on top of the database-backed Google Genomics technology. You can find more information about the GA4GH API here with information about some open-access data hosted by the ISB-CGC which you are welcome to experiment with.

Have feedback or corrections? You can file an issue here or email us at