S O F T W A R E Open Access
GCViT: a method for interactive, genome-
wide visualization of resequencing and SNP
Andrew P. Wilkey
, Anne V. Brown
, Steven B. Cannon
and Ethalinda K. S. Cannon
Background: Large genotyping datasets have become commonplace due to efficient, cheap methods for SNP
identification. Typical genotyping datasets may have thousands to millions of data points per accession, across tens
to thousands of accessions. There is a need for tools to help rapidly explore such datasets, to assess characteristics
such as overall differences between accessions and regional anomalies across the genome.
Results: We present GCViT (Genotype Comparison Visualization Tool), for visualizing and exploring large
genotyping datasets. GCViT can be used to identify introgressions, conserved or divergent genomic regions,
pedigrees, and other features for more detailed exploration. The program can be used online or as a local instance
for whole genome visualization of resequencing or SNP array data. The program performs comparisons of variants
among user-selected accessions to identify allele differences and similarities between accessions and a user-
selected reference, providing visualizations through histogram, heatmap, or haplotype views. The resulting analyses
and images can be exported in various formats.
Conclusions: GCViT provides methods for interactively visualizing SNP data on a whole genome scale, and can
produce publication-ready figures. It can be used in online or local installations. GCViT enables users to confirm or
identify genomics regions of interest associated with particular traits.
GCViT is freely available at https://github.com/LegumeFederation/gcvit. The 1.0 version described here is available
Keywords: GCViT, CViT, SNP, Resequencing, Genotype, Visualization, UI, Web service
As high throughput genotyping costs have dropped, the
dense genotyping of large germplasm collections has be-
come commonplace. Re-sequencing and SNP-array pro-
jects are used to identify sequence variants between
multiple lines, and may be used to perform genome wide
association studies (GWAS) to find variants that are as-
sociated with phenotypes. These studies can produce
millions of SNPs. For example, Torkamaneh et al. 
identified 15 million variants among 1007 accessions of
soybean, which has relatively low diversity compared
with a crop such as maize. Often these data sets are used
for a single genome wide association study (GWAS), but
such data sets are rich and may be repurposed for other
studies. Reuse of this valuable data requires tools for
visualization and analysis.
Several tools exist for exploring this data. The com-
mand line tool Genotype Query Tools (GQT)  and its
web form, webGQT  provide a means of indexing and
querying VCF files. However it lacks visualization op-
tions. Many tools are available for genomic and geno-
typic data visualization . Some of these tools include:
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* Correspondence: email@example.com
USDA-ARS Corn Insects and Crop Genetics Research Unit, Ames, IA 50011,
Full list of author information is available at the end of the article
Wilkey et al. BMC Genomics (2020) 21:822
Flapjack , Integrative Genomics Viewer (IGV) ,
Tassel-GBS , JBrowse [8–10], Xena , and SNPVer-
sity . These tools provide visualization of selected
genomic regions/genes in a single view, but lack a whole
genome overview. Tools that provide a whole genome
scale visualization in a single view include: CViT
(Chromosome Visualization Tool) , Synteny Explorer
, MizBee  and SNP & Variation Suite (SVS)
Golden Helix® - yet these tools do not automate the com-
parisons of accessions using SNP data. CViT displays fea-
tures on “backbones”, including complete genetic and
cytogenetic maps, and whole genome views of genomic
features. However, although CViT can be integrated into
online resources, it is a standalone Perl application that
generates static images on predefined comparisons, limit-
ing its utility for interactive exploration.
In this paper we describe a new tool, GCViT (Geno-
type Comparison Visualization Tool) for dynamic, whole
genome visualization of resequencing and SNP array
data through histogram, heatmap or haplotype views of
two or more accessions selected from a genotyping data
set. The visualization enables identification of regions of
similarity and difference across the genome. GCViT is
GCViT operates on variant call (VCF) files which have
been mapped to a single reference genome assembly.
Users select a reference genotype and one or more com-
parison genotypes, then GCViT performs pairwise com-
parisons between the comparison and reference
genotypes and displays the results on a whole genome
view of the reference assembly. GCViT is written in
Script application CViTjs (https://github.com/Legume-
Federation/cvitjs) is used to display the comparison
results. Resulting images can be downloaded as in PNG
or SVG formats.
GCViT, CViTjs, and CViT display features across the
full genome and use similar glyphs to represent features
and similar configuration files. CViT is a generic Perl ap-
plication for displaying features on any sort of backbone
(e.g. linkage group, pseudomolecule) which uses the GD
graphics library and produces a static image. CViTjs is a
drawing images and enables interactive data views.
GCViT, a Golang wrapper around CViTjs, provides add-
itional functionality for handling genotype data and per-
mits users to interactively choose reference and
comparison genotypes and modify display options.
Although GCViT is able to handle fairly large data
sets, data sets of millions of SNPs and/or hundreds of
genotypes may need to be subsampled. A utility for
accomplishing this, subsample_vcf.pl, is included in the
distribution. This script can be used to filter SNPs by
quality, and will select representative SNPs within a spe-
cified genomic window size.
GCViT is available at https://github.com/LegumeFedera-
tion/gcvit under an MIT license. CViTjs is available at
https://github.com/LegumeFederation/cvitjs also under
an MIT license. The 1.0 version of GCViT that is de-
scribed here is available at https://doi.org/10.5281/
An instance of GCViT can be set up in a Docker con-
tainer or installed as a Go and Nodejs application. Set
up consists of the service configuration file, preparation
of data sets and connecting them to GCViT, and config-
uration of the user interface (UI). Instructions for
deploying an instance of GCViT are provided in the
GitHub repository (https://github.com/LegumeFedera-
The GCViT display
Binning and scaling
To handle the display of dense data, the chromosomes
are divided up into bins and counts are represented for
each bin. The default bin size is 500 kb, but this can be
changed in the server-side configuration file and inter-
actively by the user. Bin sizes should be set according to
SNP density and the degree of scaling: very high-density
genotype data may be suited for smaller bin sizes, but a
large genome will require larger bins due to pixel size
because data can’t be displayed at a scale less than one
There are 3 different data displays: histogram, heatmap,
and haplotype. The histogram view shows SNP counts
in each bin, where the size of each bar represents the
count proportional to the minimum and maximum
values across the entire genome. The heatmap view
shows SNP counts within each bin using color ranges
that are proportional to the minimum and maximum
values across the genome. The haplotype view shows
SNP presence/absence within each bin if the count in
the bin matches or exceeds a given threshold.
Wilkey et al. BMC Genomics (2020) 21:822 Page 2 of 9
The user interface (UI) controls are grouped into sec-
tions: “Configure View,”where the data set and geno-
types are selected; “Display,”where the image and its
interactive controls are displayed; and “View Controls,”
which contains controls for turning on and off portions
of the image. Detailed instructions for the UI are pro-
vided in GCViT itself, through the Help button.
Selecting the reference genotype
The first step is to select a data set and reference geno-
type. Data set availability is established in the configur-
ation, along with file paths and data set name. In
addition, availability of a particular data set may be con-
trolled via simple authentication. Comparisons can be
made only within a single data set.
Selecting the comparison genotypes
After selecting the data set and reference genotype, one
or more comparison genotypes can be selected and each
assigned a distinct color. A full color palette is provided
to help distinguish the selected genotypes.
Comparisons can be displayed on the left or right side of
the chromosome backbones. For each comparison, the
user selects a display type (histogram, heatmap, or
haplotype), and the type of comparison (alleles are dif-
ferent from the reference, same as the reference, or the
total SNP count). Depending on the display type, the
user has the option of setting specific minimum or max-
imum values rather than leaving GCViT to calculate
them across the genome (histogram and heatmap), or of
setting a threshold value (haplotype).
Fig. 1 GCViT UI with an example comparison from the SoySNP50K dataset. a“configure view”section of the UI in which the figure’s constraints
are generated. binteractive “display”section of the selected comparison. c“view controls”for further filtering of the displayed view
Wilkey et al. BMC Genomics (2020) 21:822 Page 3 of 9
Chr01 Chr02 Chr03 Chr04 Chr05 Chr06
Chr07 Chr08 Chr09 Chr10 Chr11
Fig. 2 Identify introgression from Mesoamerican population into Andean line Heirloom using the Histogram view with default settings.
Differences between Heirloom and Andean lines Dolly (purple), Majesty (green), and Bonus (blue) are displayed on the left-hand side of the
chromosome. Differences between Heirloom and Mesoamerican lines Avalanche (yellow), Maverick (orange) and Zorro (red) are displayed on the
right-hand side of the chromosome. All of the chromosomes are displayed
Wilkey et al. BMC Genomics (2020) 21:822 Page 4 of 9
In the Configure View Options section, the image can
be given a title, the bin size can be changed, the ruler
placement can be modified, and the ruler interval (fre-
quency of tic marks and how often coordinate counts
are displayed) can be changed.
There are three main buttons, Display, Download, and
Help. The Display button generates the image. The
image may be larger than the viewport, in which case it
can be moved by clicking and dragging the image. The
Download button gives the option of downloading the
results in SVG or PNG formats. There are some differ-
ences between the two options: the SVG format is
downloaded as the whole image (which may be larger
than what is displayed on the screen, while the PNG for-
mat will only download what is currently visible in the
viewport. The GFF file that was created and used to
draw the visualization can also be downloaded. The Help
button provides information about GCViT and instruc-
tions for using the interface.
Pop up box
Clicking on a glyph in the image will pop up a box that
identifies the bin number, chromosome coordinates, the
value for each accession and the total value for the bin.
The pop up box can be customized by modifying the
CViTjs pop up template. Examples of potential customi-
zations include link-outs to other resources, such as the
Germplasm Repository Information Network (GRIN) ac-
cession page, or to a genome browser. In our example
on SoyBase there are linkouts to the SoyBase Gbrowse
instance, for exploration of genic features in the bin; and
to the Legume Information System “Context Viewer,”
which enables examination of synteny among similar
Above the image, a key is displayed with the currently
displayed genotypes and their respective colors. This key
will update only after the Display button has been
pressed to update the view.
On the left side of the image is a toolbox that provides
zoom controls and a set of drawing options that permit
drawing free-hand lines or rectangles, an eraser, and a
color palette. The image can be moved within the view-
port by clicking and dragging with the mouse (Fig. 1).
Note that the bin size does not change when zooming in
Gm01 Gm02 Gm03 Gm04 Gm05 Gm06 Gm07 Gm08 Gm09 Gm10 Gm11 Gm12 Gm13 Gm14
Fig. 3 Inheritance of soybean line Blackhawk using the Haplotype view with a threshold of 5. SNP differences between Blackhawk and its sibling
Hawkeye (PI 548577) are displayed on the left side of the chromosome in red. SNP differences between Blackhawk and its parents are displayed
on the right, with Mukden in green and Richland in blue. The first 14 chromosomes are displayed
Wilkey et al. BMC Genomics (2020) 21:822 Page 5 of 9
At the bottom of the page, the ‘View Control’section
permits the user to toggle off and on individual chromo-
somes and other display elements (Fig. 1).
Online instances of GCViT at the time of writing in-
clude soybean (https://soybase.org/gcvit/), common
bean (https://gcvit.phaseolus.legumeinfo.org), chickpea
(https://gcvit.cicer.legumeinfo.org), and peanut
(https://peanutbase.org/germplasm/gcvit/). Data sets
available for soybean include: the whole U.S. germ-
plasm collection genotyped with the SoySNP50K array
, resequencing of 481 soybean accessions ,
resequencing of 102 Canadian accessions , the
soybean Nested Association Mapping (SoyNAM) par-
ents and progeny [19,20], 222 Korean accessions ge-
notyped using the Axiom® SoyaSNP array , 4234
Korean accessions using the Axiom® SoyaSNP array
, GmHapMap data consisting of 1007 resequenced
accessions , and genotyping of 374 U.S. and Brazil-
ian accessions .
Data available for Chickpea contains genotype infor-
mation from 279 Chickpea accessions . For common
bean, diversity data is available for two diverse collec-
tions of Phaseolus vulgaris: the Mesoamerican Diversity
Panel (MDP) and the Andean Diversity Panel (ADP)
. The peanut data set contains the U.S. Peanut Mini
Core Collection genotyped using the 58 K Affymetrix
SNP array, Axiom Arachis .
There are many potential uses for GCViT. Here we de-
scribe four use cases.
Use case 1: identify introgressions between two common
Using GCViT on the Bean CAP diversity panels ,
the Andean and Mesoamerican populations can be
compared to identify introgressions. In Fig. 2,the
Andean line ‘Heirloom’is the reference genotype,
which is compared with three other Andrean lines:
Dolly, Majesty and Bonus; and three Mesoamerican
lines: Avalanche, Maverick and Zorro. Regions that
were introgressed from the Mesoamerican population
can be seen on chromosomes 3, 4 and 9. Although
Gm05 Gm10 Gm12 Gm19 Gm20
Fig. 4 Elite, Landrace and Wild soybean lines were compared against reference accession Williams 82 (Wm82) using the Heatmap view and a
Max threshold of 30. In order from left to right are Elite accessions: PI 548655 (green, common name- Forrest), PI 548656 (turquoise, common
name- Lee) and PI 546487 (blue, common name-Archer); Landrace accessions: PI 567155A (red), PI 361109 (yellow) and PI 407802 (orange); Wild
accessions: PI 407040 (pink), PI 163453 (purple), and PI 407247 (gray). A subset of chromosomes are displayed including Gm05, and Gm20 which
show conserved regions within the cultivated soybeans (Elite and Landrace) highlighted in orange boxes. Centromeric regions are indicated by
dark gray boxes on the chromosomes
Wilkey et al. BMC Genomics (2020) 21:822 Page 6 of 9
there are differences between Heirloom and the
other three Andrean lines, there are few differences
among the Mesoamerican lines, suggesting that these
regions were introgressed from the Mesoamerican
Use case 2: inheritance analysis
Using the SoySNP50K data , pedigree relation-
ships were plotted, comparing soybean line Blackhawk
(PI 548516) to sibling Hawkeye (PI 548577), and par-
ents Mukden (PI 548391) and Richland (PI 548406)
Fig. 5 Differences between two lines with the same name using the Histogram view. ausing a merged dataset of the SoySNP50K and 180
Axiom array from Lee et al.  we compared PI 424032 from the SoySNP50K to PI 424032 from Lee et al. SNPs in gray (left) represent the total
number of SNPs used in the comparison while SNPs in orange (right) indicate differences between the two lines. busing the SoySNP50K dataset,
two Dwight lines were compared. Dwight from Dr. Song’s lab and Dwight directly from the soybean germplasm collection. SNPs in gray (left)
represent the total number of SNPs used in the comparison while SNPs in pink (right) indicate differences between the two lines. Centromeric
regions are indicated by dark gray boxes on the chromosomes. A subset of chromosomes are displayed
Wilkey et al. BMC Genomics (2020) 21:822 Page 7 of 9
(Fig. 3). In this example, every region with a differ-
ence between Blackhawk and its sibling, also shows a
difference between Blackhawk and one of its parents,
indicating that this region was inherited from differ-
ent parents in each sibling. From this information, it
is apparent that most of Gm04, Gm08, and Gm17 of
the siblings were inherited from Mukden, while most
of Gm05 was inherited from Richland.
Use case 3: identify conserved genomic regions and/or
regions of interest
Using the SoySNP50k data, we can identify regions
that are conserved between cultivated soybean lines
(Glycine max) and its wild relative (Glycine soja). In
this example we used soybean cultivar Williams 82
(Wm82) as the reference and compared it to 6 other
cultivated soybean lines and 3 wild (G.soja)lines.On
chromosome Gm05 and Gm20 there are regions that
show no differences between Wm82 and the other
cultivated soybeans, but clear differences between the
cultivated soybeans and the wild soybeans (Fig. 4).
These regions could indicate regions that were se-
lected during domestication.
Use case 4: identify if two soybean accessions labeled the
same are indeed the same
It is known that there can be genomic variation between
soybean cultivars with the same name due to differential
segregation of polymorphic regions during the breeding
process . One cultivar where we see this variation is
the representative soybean genome, Williams 82 (Wm82).
In these two examples we show two different situations
where two accessions with the same name are not 100%
In this example we use a soybean accession which
was genotyped by two different studies. The two VCF
files were merged using BCFtools and a similarity
matrix was created using SNPRelate. Accessions over-
lap was identified and all of the accessions matched
their counterpart, except for two. One of these acces-
sions was PI 424032, which was found to have a simi-
larity score of 0.715. The differences between these
two accessions were then plotted using GCViT
424032 genotyped from the SoySNP50K and Lee
et al.  are completely different. (Fig. 5a)Itwas
later confirmed by the author/PI (personal comm. Dr.
Soon-Chun Jeong) that the wrong seed was received
from the Soybean Germplasm Repository.
Using two different lines of soybean accession Dwight,
we are able to identify regions of selection. Using infor-
mation from the SoySNp50K data set the similarity score
was calculated between Dwight and PI 597386. The
similarity score between these two lines is 0.977. Using
GCViT we can plot where these two lines differ (Fig. 5b)
This information shows that these two lines started out
the same, but were then grown out for multiple genera-
tions in different labs (personal comm. Dr. Qijian Song).
A video tutorial can be found here: https://www.youtube.
com/watch?v=B2gPVUipWo0 and a blog post on GCViT
can be found here: https://www.legumefederation.org/en/
GCViT remains in active development. As it is in the
process of being adopted for additional organisms and
research communities, we are receiving requests for
enhancements and new features. These and future re-
quests will be considered for inclusion in subsequent
GCViT provides useful visualization of SNP data on a
whole genome scale. This visualization can provide many
insights. Images can be downloaded as publication-ready
Availability and requirements
Project name: GCViT (Genotype Comparison Visualization
Project home page: https://github.com/LegumeFe-
Operating system(s): Platform Independent
Other requirements: NodeJS > = 10.13.0 and Go > =
1.10 or Docker to build
Any restrictions to use by non-academics: No
CViT: Chromosome Visualization Tool; GCViT: Genotype Comparison
Visualization Tool; GRIN: Germplasm Repository Information Network;
GWAS: Genome Wide Association Study; LIS: Legume Information System;
SoySNP50k: Illumina Infinium BeadChip containing 50,000 SNPs from
soybean, used to sequence the full U.S. soybean germplasm collection.;
UI: User Interface; VCF: Variant Call Format; Wm82 : Williams 82
We thank Nathan Weeks for help in testing, containerization, and
deployment of the GCViT package and to all the members of the USDA
SoyBase and Legume Database group who have provided suggestions
Wilkey et al. BMC Genomics (2020) 21:822 Page 8 of 9
during the development process. This research was supported in part by the
US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, project 5030-
21000-062-00D. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.
APW: design and all code, AVB: design, SBC and EKSC: design and
development of original CViT, and design guidance for GCViT. AVB and
APW wrote the manuscript. All authors edited and approved the final
This research was supported in part by the NSF project “Federated Plant
Database Initiative for the Legumes,”award #1444806, and by the US.
Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, project 5030–
21000-069-00D. Mention of trade names or commercial products in this
publication is solely for the purpose of providing specific information and
does not imply recommendation or endorsement by the U.S. Department of
Agriculture. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and Employer.
Availability of data and materials
GCViT is freely available here: https://github.com/LegumeFederation/gcvit.
The 1.0 version described here is available at https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.
All data used in on-line versions of GCViT can be found at the Legume
Ethics approval and consent to participate
Consent for publication
The authors report no competing interests.
ORISE Fellow, USDA-ARS Corn Insects and Crop Genetics Research Unit,
Ames, IA 50011, USA.
USDA-ARS Corn Insects and Crop Genetics Research
Unit, Ames, IA 50011, USA.
Received: 26 June 2020 Accepted: 9 November 2020
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