2. Using KAT

KAT is a C++ program containing a number of subtools which can be used in isolation or as part of a pipeline. Typing kat --help will show a list of the available subtools. Each subtool has its own help system which you can access by typing kat <subtool> --help.

2.1. HIST

Creates a histogram with the number of distinct k-mers having a given frequency, derived from the input. The input can take the form of one or more FastA or FastQ files, or a jellyfish hash. The last bucket in the histogram behaves as a catchall: it tallies all k-mers with a count greater or equal to the low end point of this bucket.

This tool is very similar to the histo tool in jellyfish itself. The primary difference being that the output contains metadata that make the histogram easier for the user to plot, and that this version is faster because we do not need to dump the hash to disk and read it back.

Basic usage:

kat hist [options] (<input>)+


  • Assess data quality: estimates of kmers deriving from errors; sequencing bias
  • Determine completeness of sequencing
  • Identify genomic properties: Heterozygosity, homozygosity, karyotype, repeat content.
  • Limited contamination detection

2.2. GCP

This tool takes in either a single jellyfish hash or one or more FastA or FastQ input files and then counts the GC nucleotides for each distinct K-mer in the hash. For each GC count and K-mer coverage level, the number of distinct K-mers are counted and stored in a matrix. This matrix can be used in much that same way as a kmer spectra histogram, although it provides richer output by incorperating GC content into the picture. This helps to distinguish legitimate content from contamination, which often appear as separate spots at unexpected GC and coverage levels.

Basic usage:

kat gcp (<input>)+


  • Assess data quality: estimates of kmers deriving from errors; sequencing bias
  • Determine completeness of sequencing
  • Identify genomic properties: Heterozygosity, homozygosity, karyotype, repeat content.
  • Contamination detection

2.3. Comp

Compares jellyfish K-mer count hashes.

The most common use case for this tool is to compare two (or three) K-mer hashes. The typical use case for this tool is to compare K-mers from two K-mer hashes both representing K-mer counts for reads. However, it is also common to compare K-mers generated from reads to those generated from an assembly. If comparing K-mers from reads to K-mers from an assembly, the larger (most likely the read) K-mer hash should be provided first, then the assembly second. The third optional input acts as a filter, restricting the analysis to the K-mers present on that set. The manual contains more details on specific use cases.

Basic usage:

kat comp [options] <input_1> <input_2> [<input_3>]

Should the user wish to group multiple files to be concatenated into a single input group they may do so by surrounding the input group in single quotes. The following example groups the full input read set into the first input and compares against an assembly:

kat comp -t 8 -o pe_v_asm_test 'PE1.R1.fq PE1.R2.fq' asm.fa

... or more compactly:

kat comp -t 8 -o pe_v_asm_test 'PE1.R?.fq' asm.fa


  • Determine sequencing bias between left and right read pairs.
  • Compare the kmer spectrum of input reads against an assembly to gauge assembly completeness

2.4. SECT

Estimates coverage levels across sequences in the provided input sequence file. This tool will produce a fasta style representation of the input sequence file containing K-mer coverage counts mapped across each sequence. K-mer coverage is determined from the provided counts input file, which can be either one jellyfish hash, or one or more FastA / FastQ files. In addition, a space separated table file containing the mean coverage score and GC of each sequence is produced. The row order is identical to the original sequence file.

NOTE: K-mers containing any Ns derived from sequences in the sequence file not be included.

Basic usage:

kat sect [options] <sequence_file> (<input>)+


  • Analyse kmer coverage across assembled sequences
  • Compare assemblies using kmers, helpful to levels of contamination of a specific organism.
  • Contamination detection - Compare kmer spectrum against assembly providing average coverage and GC values for each contig, which can be 2D binned and plot as a heatmap

2.5. Filtering tools

KAT comes with two filtering tools allowing the user to slice and dice their data in a rapid and simple way.

2.5.1. K-mer filtering

This tool allows the user to produce K-mer hashes, within and outside user defined GC and k-mer coverage bounds. This is useful for isolating k-mers that could be attributable to contamination, or for contamination removal. Normally, the user would identify such regions using plots from the GCP tool.

Basic usage:

kat filter kmer [options] (<input>)+


  • Extracting k-mers with defined GC and coverage
  • Contamination extraction (from k-mer hash)

2.5.2. Sequence filtering

The user loads a k-mer hash and then filters sequences (either in or out) depending on whether those sequences contain the k-mer or not. The user can also apply a threshold requiring X% of k-mers to be in the sequence before filtering is applied. The user can also use this tool for filtering paired end reads, and for subsampling.

Basic usage:

kat filter seq [options] --seq <seq_file> <k-mer_hash>


  • Contamination extraction from read file or assembly files, extraction of organelles, subsampling high_coverage regions

2.6. Plotting tools

KAT comes with a selection of plotting tools for representing and comparing K-mer spectra in various ways. All plotting tools come with the ability to manually modify axis, titles, limits, size, resolution, etc, although they will all try to pick intelligent defaults directly from the data provided.

2.6.1. Spectra_hist

Visualises the K-mer spectra from kat hist or jellyfish histo output. This tool is designed to plot line graphs of one or more histograms. The idea is to be able to compare total K-mer counts between different datasets.

Basic usage:

kat plot spectra-hist <hist_file>


  • Basic K-mer spectra visualisation

2.6.2. Density

Creates a scatter plot, where the density or “heat” at each point represents the number of distinct K-mers at that point. Typically this is used to visualise a matrix produced by the kat comp tool to compare frequencies from two K-mer hashes produced by different NGS reads, or to visualise the GC vs K-mer matrices produced by the kat gcp tool.

Basic usage:

kat plot density <matrix_file>


  • Visualise GC vs coverage matrices
  • Visualise coverage vs coverage matrices
_images/ccoli_gcp.png _images/ccoli_comp.png

2.6.3. Profile

Shows K-mer coverage level across an sequence

Basic usage:

kat plot profile <sect_counts_file>


  • Visualise coverage (and optionally GC) levels across a sequence or set of sequences

2.6.4. Spectra_CN

Shows K-mer duplication levels, which correspond to copy number variation within an assembly by comparing K-mers found in sequenced reads, to K-mers found in an assembly of those reads. Uses matrix output from the kat comp tool.

Basic usage:

kat plot spectra-cn <matrix_file>


  • Visualise the copy number spectra of WGS data compared against an assembly

2.6.5. Spectra_mx

Produces K-mer spectras from rows or columns in a matrix generated by kat comp. This tool is designed to plot line graphs for one or more histograms, each histogram being represented by a single row or column in the matrix.

This tool also has a special mode for showing shared and exclusive content between two different samples. This mode takes the first row and column of the matrix representing content which is found exclusively in each sample. Two more lines are plotting, one which has each following row summed, and the other that has each following column summed. These two plots represent the shared content for each sample. This mode can be activated using the --intersection flag.

Alternatively, you can select specific rows and columns from the matrix using a comma separated list identified with the --list option. Each element in the list should start with either a ‘c’ or a ‘r’ indicating whether or not the column or row is requested. Then the element should contain a number indicating which column or row to select. For example: --list c0,r1 will select column 0 and row 1. Note: spaces are not tolerated in this list.

Basic usage:

kat plot spectra-mx <matrix_file>


  • Visualising shared and exclusive content between two datasets
  • RNAseq to WGS comparison
  • Visualising k-mer spectra of arbitrary columns and rows from a matrix