Tomography Guide Advanced Topics for IMOD 4.11

University of Colorado, Boulder

Table of Contents

1.0. Command Files
2.0. Entries to Programs
3.0. Making a Tomogram with Correlation Alignment.
4.0. Combining Tomograms with Few or No Fiducials Using Matching Models
5.0. Importing Two Tomograms into Tomogram Combination
6.0. Combining with Over-sized Reconstructions
7.0. Tracking Additional Gold for Erasing from a Tomogram

1.0. Command Files

Nearly all of the processing for tomography is done by running command files. The format of these files was originally based on the batch files used in VMS. In our command files, every line that runs a command or program must start with "$"; comments can be inserted anywhere in the file on lines that start with "#". To skip over part of a command file, you can insert the lines:
  $goto label             ("label" can be any label you choose)
  $label:                 (This must be on a line by itself)
You can run a command file with "subm", which is an alias defined in the IMOD startup files; for example, for tcsh users it is:
alias subm 'submfg \!* &'
(An equivalent function is provided for bash users, and a script is provided for Windows users without Cygwin to run submfg in the background.) Submfg is a script that will run one or more command files in sequence, creating a log file for each and reporting on their success or failure. It uses the script Vmstopy to convert a command file to a Python script. With this alias, you can enter, e.g., "subm track", and a file named will be executed in the background, with a log file created called track.log. The bell will ring and a message will be printed when the command file is completed. You can also enter "subm track." or "subm prenewst". You can actually define variables and include Python statements in a command file; see the Vmstopy man page.

If you need to interrupt a command file after you have started it, one way is to use the "imodkillgroup" command with the process ID (PID) that was printed out when you entered the "subm" command. For example, if the PID was 1234, enter "imodkillgroup 1234". Another way (except on Windows without Cygwin) is to bring the process to the foreground with "fg", then used CTRL-C to interrupt it. If there is more than one process in the background, in tcsh you can give the command "jobs" first to determine which one is the process in question, then use, for example, "fg %2" to bring job 2 to the foreground.

2.0. Entries to Programs

The programs that you will run have many parameters or options to control their behavior. There are three basic ways that options and parameters can be entered: as arguments on the command line after the program name, interactively in response to queries from the program after it starts, or as a set of lines containing keyword and values. The first way follows the conventions that are common for Unix commands, the most typical form being
command [options] input_file output_file
The [ ] around "options" signifies that this is an optional entry; this is a common convention when summarizing how to invoke a program. Optional arguments are usually single letters or abbreviations starting with a dash (-). Some options must be followed by another entry, which could be a filename, a single number, or a list of numbers. Other options stand on their own, without an additional entry. Command line entries are finicky in that they require spaces separating all of the elements, including a space between an option and its value, and no embedded spaces in the entries. For example:
newstack -sec 0-7,13-21 -xf images.xg images.ali
Here the -sec option is followed by a list of section numbers (with no embedded spaces), the -xf option is followed by the name of file with transformations in it, and the last two arguments are the names of the input and output files.

A program that takes command line arguments will almost always print a summary of its usage when you type in the program name with no arguments, or with the argument -h.

Programs that take entries interactively print out a query for an entry, accept a line of input, then go on to the next entry. In the command files used to run the tomography software, the answer to each query will appear on a separate line after the line on which such a program is invoked. When you look at the log file produced by running a command file, you will see all of the queries but none of the entries, because the entries are not echoed into the log file.

Because there are several disadvantages to the latter approach, a new input method was devised called PIP, which stands for "parse input parameters". A program that uses PIP can take parameters either as command line arguments or as a set of lines of input, with each line containing the keyword for an option and its value. Typically each option has a short name and a long name defined for it. The short names are meant to be used on the command line, while the long names are more explanatory and are suitable for command files. Option names can be abbreviated to a unique set of characters, which makes command line use even more convenient, although it is better not to abbreviate options in command files. In fact, the command files used for standard processing in IMOD all have full option names, and many Python scripts that need to edit these files assume that the full names are present. All text starting with a '#' is treated as a comment and ignored.

It may help to be aware of the underlying structure of the programs in the IMOD package. Other than Etomo, they are written primarily in three languages: C, Fortran, and Python. (There are still a few specialized scripts in shell script language.) The C programs take command line arguments; only a few of the older ones have been converted to use PIP for input but a number of newer ones do use it. The Python and shell scripts also take command line arguments, and almost all Python programs use PIP. The Fortran programs, which are the predominant programs used for tomography, originally all took inputs interactively. Fortran programs used for tomography have almost all been converted to use PIP for input.

Fortran programs have several conventions for numeric interactive input, and PIP follows essentially the same conventions when used from a Fortran program:

  1. When several numbers are expected in response to a query, they can be separated by commas or spaces. In addition, they can be entered on more than one line. However, in command files processed by Etomo, numbers should be separated only by commas and should not continue on more than one line.
  2. A slash (/) at the beginning of an entry will accept the default values for all of the entries expected on that line.
  3. When several numbers are being entered, specific values can be entered for some of the numbers, followed by a slash to accept the defaults for the rest of the entries (e.g., if 6 numbers are expected, 128,384/ will enter two and accept the defaults for the other four).
  4. Entering a comma without a number will accept the default for the number expected before that comma (e.g., ,,,,128,384 will accept the defaults for the first four numbers and enter values for the last two).
  5. Once the program has received all the numbers that it is expecting, it ignores the text on the rest of the line, as long as it is appropriately separated from the last numeric entry (by a tab or space). Command files can take advantage of this feature by having comments after numeric entries. However, when Etomo processes command files, it places such comments on a separate line before the entry.

Filename or other text entries do not follow these conventions for numeric input, and cannot be followed by comments on the same line in the command file.

Some programs accept lists of numbers for specific entries. Lists are comma-separated ranges of numbers, such as 1,3,6-9,12-10, which would enter the numbers 1,3,6,7,8,9,12,11,10. Lists follow slightly different conventions:

  1. A list must be confined to a single line (which can be 10240 characters long).
  2. A slash (/) at the beginning of the entry will accept the default values for the list (or leave a previous entry unmodified), but there is no way to enter defaults for only some of the numbers in the list.
  3. A character other than space, minus, comma, or a digit will terminate the list; text after that character will be ignored, thus allowing comments after lists.

3.0. Making a Tomogram with Correlation Alignment.

This section describes in detail the steps involved if you need to make as good a tomogram as possible with the cross-correlation alignment. It was written before patch tracking was available; that is generally a better option for trying to improve on what comes out with coarse alignment only.

4.0. Combining Tomograms with Few or No Fiducials Using Matching Models

This section describes how to use models of corresponding points to get the initial match between two tomograms when there are too few, or no, fiducials and the automated volume matching by image correlations has failed. To get an adequate solution for the initial transformation, there should be at least 6 well-distributed corresponding points, preferably 8-10. To make matching models, do this:
  1. Select the Use matching models only button on the Tomogram Combination Setup page.
  2. If your tomograms are too large for both to fit into memory, select Load binned by 2, which will reduce memory requirements 8-fold.
  3. Press Create Matching Models in 3dmod to load both tomograms with appropriate filenames set up. Change the object type to "Scattered points" and set a useful symbol or sphere size so that you can see the points. It will be easy to see corresponding points if you open a Slicer window for one tomogram and rotate by 90 degrees in Z until you see an image whose orientation matches that of the other tomogram. You can model in this Slicer windows just as easily as in the Zap window. Model 8-10 well-distributed corresponding points. Be sure to have points distributed in Z as well as in X and Y. See the man page for Solvematch for more details on choosing points. If you are marking gold particles, put the model point on the section with the strongest white side bands around the black bead. Save the models.
  4. Make sure that you have corresponding fiducial point numbers entered if you do have some fiducials.
  5. Start the combine operation.

5.0. Importing Two Tomograms into Tomogram Combination

This section describes how you can use Etomo to combine tomograms from tilt series taken around two axes and reconstructed in other software. The instructions assume that you are starting with tomograms that are oriented so that the Z slices in the file correspond to X/Y planes through the specimen, as in IMOD after post-processing.

  1. Make sure that the tilt axis is along the Y axis for each tomogram, and that the X and Y dimensions of the A tomogram match the Y and X dimensions of the B tomogram, respectively. For example, suppose the tilt axis is at 70 degrees counterclockwise from the Y axis, and that the A tomogram is 1950 by 2048 pixels while the B tomogram is 2048 by 2000 pixels. You need to rotate both by -70 degrees. Minimally, you would rotate them as follows:
        newstack -size 2048,1950 -rot -70 original-a setnamea.rot
        newstack -size 1950,2048 -rot -70 original-b setnameb.rot 
    Here, "original-a" and "original-b" refer to your original volumes. However, if you want to preserve all the data in the original tomograms, you could make the rotated volumes larger. The data loss from rotation becomes increasingly important the farther the rotation is from 0 or +/- 90 degrees; to prevent it completely, one would need to increase the size of the area by the sine of the rotation angle. For example, these sizes would completely preserve the data:
       newstack -size 2700,2600 -rot -70 original-a setnamea.rot
       newstack -size 2600,2700 -rot -70 original-b setnameb.rot 
  2. To process in IMOD, you need to have the tomograms in the orientation produced by Tilt, in which the tilt axis is along the Z dimension of the file and the Y dimension is depth (i.e., Z slices in the file correspond to X/Z planes through the specimen). Rotate the volumes with:
       clip rotx original-a setnamea_rec.mrc 
       clip rotx setnamea.rot setnamea_rec.mrc 
    depending on whether you rotated the volumes or not, and similarly for B.
  3. You need text files "setnamea.tlt" and "setnameb.tlt" with either the full list of tilt angles for each data set, or simply with two lines in each, listing the starting and ending angles of that tilt series.
  4. To get through the setup process, you need to have some kind of files or links usable as raw stacks, such as "" and "". Except on Windows, the simplest thing to do is to create links:
        ln -s setnamea_rec.mrc
        ln -s setnameb_rec.mrc 
    Alternatively, you can rename either "original-a" or "setnamea.rot" to be "", as in:
        mv setnamea.rot 
        mv original-a 
    and similarly for B.
  5. Start Etomo. On the Setup page, use the A stack, "", to define the data set. Make sure Dual axis is selected. Fill in the pixel size, fiducial size, and rotation with 1, 10, and 0. Check Specify the starting angle and step for each axis. Press Create Com Scripts.
  6. Go directly to the Tomogram Combination panel. Proceed to make matching models as described in Combining Tomograms with Few or No Fiducials.
  7. If you made the volumes bigger to preserve data after rotation, you should draw a patch region model enclosing the original data. You only need to draw one contour. To avoid spurious correlations from the border between actual data and filled regions, you may need to place this contour inside the border of the original data by as much as half the X/Y size of the patches used for patch correlations.
  8. Set other parameters as usual and start the combine operation.

6.0. Combining Over-sized Reconstructions

When you make over-sized reconstructions, there will be substantial regions near the edges that have inadequate or no backprojected information; these regions need to be excluded from patch correlation when combining. When you use a patch region model to define the area with good reconstruction in the A tomogram, Corrsearch3d assumes that everything from the B tomogram that matches into that area is suitable for correlation, unless it is within 36 pixels of the edge in X or Y. Indeed, the material in such regions would be suitable, but the reconstruction of it may not. Thus, you may need to define a region model for the second axis. Specifically, this would be the case when the two tomograms are not nearly the same size in X and Y after rotating one by 90 degrees, or when there is a substantial shift between their centers. The steps for this would be:
  1. Open the volume being transformed in 3dmod. Draw a contour around the region with good reconstruction. In the X dimension, keep the borders to within the original field of view of the camera to avoid data that may be smeared out in Z. Save the model as "matched_region.mod".
  2. After pressing Create Combine Scripts, press Postpone.
  3. Edit and insert the line
        BRegionModel  matched_region.mod 
    among the other parameter inputs.
  4. Reopen the Combine page and press Start Combine

In the final step of combining, Filltomo is used to fill the combined tomogram with data from A in areas where the the B tomogram does not have good data. The program is given information about the size of the original tilt series and the transformations that were applied in reconstructing and combining the B axis. This information should allow the program to fill in data appropriately when combining

7.0. Tracking Additional Gold for Erasing from a Tomogram

If you want to erase gold that was not modeled as fiducials, then you need to make a more complete model than the fiducial model. This section describes the steps for adding seeds to the fiducial model and tracking it to get a more complete model.

You make your complete model on the coarse aligned stack. It will be named "setname.fid", and you will be able to use the gold-erasing interface in Etomo to transform the model and apply it to the aligned stack. However, before you start, you should copy your existing fiducial model to another filename in case you need to reuse it for aligning at some point.

    cp setname.fid setname_real.fid 
Also save the original seed model if it has not been saved previously; i.e., if "setname_orig.seed" does not exist, then
    cp setname.seed setname_orig.seed 

One option with this method is to add seed points by hand. The easiest way to do this is to rename the fiducial file as a seed file:

    mv setname.fid setname.seed 
then use View Seed Model to open the model with the Bead Fixer in seeding mode. Add seed points and proceed to track and refine as needed.

A second option, particularly useful if you have many unmarked beads, is to use Imodfindbeads to find the gold. The command for doing that is:

    imodfindbeads -size diameter -sp 0.9 -add setname.fid \
                -sec section setname_preali.mrc setname.seed 
Here "diameter" is the diameter of the beads in pixels, "section" is the section number, numbered from 0, to analyze, and the "-sp 0.9" allows beads to be spaced apart by at least 0.9 times their diameter. A spacing down to 0.8 may be useful for getting more overlapping beads.

Run this way, the program will analyze the correlation strengths of beads (referred to as relative peak strengths) and try to determine a threshold between true beads and spurious correlations. It will store the positions of what it thinks are the true beads and up to the same number of points with peak strengths below the threshold. It is important that you remove the points below threshold before proceeding. To do this, close the Bead Fixer if it is open, then use View Seed Model to reload the model and reopen the Bead Fixer. Now it will show a set of controls for dealing with contours that have values. Use the slider to adjust the threshold to the best value if necessary, the checkbox for seeing all the points below threshold as well, and the button for deleting all of the points below your chosen threshold. If you find this step unnecessary with your data, you can avoid it by adding the Imodfindbeads option "-store -1" to get only points above threshold stored in the model.

There are more options to try if Imodfindbeads has trouble finding the threshold peak strength. You can use "-guess" to provide a value for the minimum number of beads present, or enter a higher fraction than the default (0.05) for the "-peakmin" option to reduce the large number of spurious peaks included in the analysis. You can bypass the automatic threshold finding by entering a positive value (either a relative peak strength or a number of peaks) for the "-threshold" and "-store" options. See the man page for more guidance.

Once you are satisfied with the seed model, proceed to track and refine as usual. When the model is complete, return to the Final Aligned Stack panel, transform the model, and use it to erase the gold.