Frequently asked questions about model-building


What can I do if autobuild says "this version does not seem big enough"?

Autobuild tries to automatically determine the size of solve or resolve, but if your data is very high resolution or a very large unit cell, you can get the message:

Sorry, this version does not seem big enough...
(Current value of isizeit is  30)
Unfortunately your computer will only accept a size of  30
with your current settings.
You might try cutting back the resolution
You might try "coarse_grid" to reduce memory
You might try "unlimit" allow full use of memory

You cannot get rid of this problem by specifying the resolution with resolution=4.0 because autobuild use the resolution cutoff you specify in all calculations, but the high-res data is still carried along.

The easiest solution to this problem is to edit your data file to have lower- resolution data. You can do it like this:

phenix.reflection_file_converter --resolution=4.0

or in the GUI, use the reflection file editor.

A second solution is to tell autobuild to ignore the high-res data explicitly with one of these commands (on the command line or in the GUI):

resolve_command="'resolution 200 4.0'"
solve_command="'resolution 200 4.0'"
resolve_pattern_command="'resolution 200 4.0'"

Note the two sets of quotes; both are required for this command-line input. Just one set of quotes is required in the GUI. These commands are applied after all other inputs in resolve/solve/resolve_pattern and therefore all data outside these limits will be ignored.

Why am I not allowed to use a file with FAVG SIGFAVG DANO SIGDANO in autobuild?

The group of MTZ columns FAVG SIGFAVG DANO SIGDANO is a special one that should normally not be used in Phenix. The reason is that Phenix stores this data as F+ SIGF+ F- SIGF-, but in the conversion process between F+/F- and FAVG/DANO, information is lost. Therefore you should normally supply data files with F+ SIGF+ F- SIGF- (or intensities), or fully merged data (F,SIG) to Phenix routines. As a special case, if you have anomalous data saved as FAVG SIGFAVG DANO SIGDANO you can supply this to autosol, however this requires either that (1) you supply a refinement file with F SIG, or that (2) your data file has a separate F SIG pair of columns (other than the FAVG SIGFAVG columns that are part of the FAVG/DANO group).

How can I specify a mask for density modification in autosol/autobuild/?

In autobuild you can simply use the command:

mask_from_pdb = my_mask_file.pdb
rad_mask_from_pdb = 2

where my_mask_file.pdb has atoms in it marking the region to be masked. All points within rad_mask_from_pdb of an atom in my_mask_file.pdb will be considered inside the mask.

If you want to specify a mask in autosol, add this command:

resolve_command_list="'model ../../coords.pdb'  'use_model_mask'"

where there are " and ' quotes and coords.pdb is the model to use for a mask. Note the "../../" because coords.pdb is in your working directory but when resolve runs the run directory is 2 directories lower, so relative to that directory your coords.pdb is at "../../coords.pdb".

You will know it is working if your resolve_xx.log says:

Using model mask calculated from coordinates

Note: this command is most appropriate for use with the keyword maps_only=True because phenix.autobuild also uses model=... so that iterative model-building may not work entirely correctly in this case. Two parts that may not function correctly are "build_outside_model" (which will use your model as a mask and not the current one), and evaluate_model (which will evaluate your starting model, not the current model).

What do I do if autobuild says TRIED resolve_extra_huge ...but not OK?

In most cases when you get this error in phenix:

TRIED resolve_extra_huge ...but not OK

it actually means "your computer does not have enough memory to run resolve_extra_huge". If that is the case then you are kind of stuck unless you have another computer with even more memory+swap space, or you cut back on the resolution of the input data (Note that you have to actually lower the resolution in the input file, not just set "resolution=" because all the data is kept but not used if you just set the resolution).

You can also try the keyword:


(note 2 sets of quotes)

Sometimes the not OK message can happen if your system and PHENIX are not matching, so that resolve or solve cannot run at all. You can test for this by typing:


and if it loads up (just type QUIT or END or control-C to end it) then it runs, and if it doesn't, there is a system mismatch.

Model-building (AutoBuild, etc.)

How do I run AutoBuild on a cluster?

Phenix.autobuild is set up so that you can specify the number of processors (nproc) and the number of batches (nbatch). Additionally you will want to set two more parameters:

run_command ="command you use to submit a job to your system"
background=False   # probably false if this is a cluster, true if this is a multiprocessor machine

If you have a queueing system with 20 nodes, then you probably submit jobs with something like:

"qsub -someflags"   # where someflags are whatever flags you use

(or just "qsub" if no flags)

Then you might use:

run_command="qsub -someflags"  background=False nproc=20 nbatch=20

If you have a 20-processor machine instead, then you might say:

run_command=sh  background=True nproc=20 nbatch=20

so that it would run your jobs with sh on your machine, and run them all in the background (i.e., all at one time).

Why does autobuild say it is doing 2 rebuild cycles but I specified one?

The AutoBuild wizard adds a cycle just before the rebuild cycles in which nothing happens except refinement and grouping of models from any previous build cycles.

What is the difference between overall_best.pdb and cycle_best_1.pdb in autobuild?

Autobuild saves the best model (and map coefficient file, etc) for each build cycle nn as cycle_best_nn.pdb. Also the Wizard copies the current overall best model to overall_best.pdb. In this way you can always pull the overall_best.pdb file and you will have the current best model. If you wait until the end of the run you will get a summary that lists the files corresponding to the best model. These will have the same contents as the overall_best files.

How do I tell autobuild to use phenix.refine maps instead of density-modified maps for model-building?

To use the phenix.refine maps instead of density-modified maps, use the keyword two_fofc_in_rebuild=True.

How do I include a twin law for refinement in autobuild?

You can include the twin law in autobuild for refinement with the keyword refine_eff_file=refinement_params.eff, where refinement_params.eff says something like:

refinement {
  twinning {
    twin_law = "-k, -h, -l"

(You can get the twin law "-k, -h, -l" from phenix.xtriage.)

AutoBuild seems to be taking a long time. What is the usual time for a run?

For typical structures, autobuild runs can take from 30 minutes to several days using a single processor. You can speed up your jobs by using several processors with a command such as "nproc=4". for autobuild you can speed up by up to a factor of 5 in this way. You can also speed up rebuild_in_place autobuild jobs (where your model is being adjusted, not built from scratch) by specifying fewer cycles: "n_cycle_rebuild_max=1" will use 1 cycle of rebuilding instead of the usual 5. Often that is plenty.

Why does autoauild bomb and say "Corrupt gradient calculations"?

If an atom is placed very near a special position then sometimes refinement will fail and an error message starting with "Corrupt gradient calculations" is printed out. If the starting PDB file has the atom near a special position, then the best thing to do is move it away from the special position. If AutoBuild builds a model that has this problem, then it may be easier to rerun the job, specifying "ignore_errors_in_subprocess=True" which should allow it to continue past this error (by simply ignoring that refinement step). You can also try setting correct_special_position_tolerance=0 (to turn off the check) or correct_special_position_tolerance=5 (to check over a wider range of distances from the special position; default=1).

Why does autobuild bomb and say it cannot find a TEMP file?

By default autobuild splits jobs into one or more parts (determined by the parameter "nbatch") and runs them as sub-processes. These may run sequentially or in parallel, depending on the value of the parameter "nproc" . In some cases the running of sub-processes can lead to timing errors in which a file is not written fully before it is to be read by the next process. This appears more often when jobs are run on nfs-mounted disks than on a local disk. If this occurs, a solution is to set the parameter "nbatch=1" so that the jobs not be run as sub-processes. You can also specify"number_of_parallel_models=1" which will do much the same thing. Note that changing the value of "nbatch" will normally change the results of running the Wizard. (Changing the value of "nproc" does not change the results, it changes only how many jobs are run at once.)

Is there anyway to get phenix.autobuild to NOT delete multiple conformers when doing a SA-omit map?

At present, if you put you multiple conformations in for the protein autobuild will take only conformation 1 and it will ignore the others.

As a work-around, you can try this: call all the protein a "ligand" and put it in this way (you need to give it one complete residue in the model as "one_residue.pdb" (or any part of the model that has just one conformation):

phenix.autobuild data=data.mtz \
  model=one_residue.pdb \
  input_lig_file_list=model.pdb \

Autobuild treats ligands as a fixed structure during model building and in omit maps, only adjusted during refinement, which is what you want in this case.

Why does autobuild just stop after a few seconds?

When you run autobuild from the command line it writes the output to a file and says something like:

Sending output to  AutoBuild_run_3_/AutoBuild_run_3_1.log

Usually if something goes wrong with the inputs then it will give you an error message right on the screen. However a few types of errors are only written to the log file, so if autobuild just stops after a few seconds, have a look at this log file and it should have an error message at the end of the file.

What is an R-free flags mismatch?

When you run autoBuild or phenix.refine you may get this error message or a similar one:

Failed to carry out AutoBuild_build_cycle:
Please resolve the R-free flags mismatch.

Phenix.refine keeps track of which reflections are used as the test set (i.e., not used in refinement but only in estimation of overall parameters). The test set identity is saved as a hex-digest and written to the output PDB file produced by phenix.refine as a REMARK record:

REMARK r_free_flags.md5.hexdigest 41aea2bced48fbb0fde5c04c7b6fb64

Then when phenix.refine reads a PDB file and a set of data, it checks to make sure that the same test set is about to be used in refinement as it was in the previous refinement of this model. If it does not, you get the error message about an R-free flags mismatch.

Sometimes the R-free flags mismatch error is telling you something important: you need to make sure that the same test set is used throughout refinement. In this case, you might need to change the data file you are using to match the one previously used with this PDB file. Alternatively you might need to start your refinement over with the desired data and test set.

Other times the warning is not applicable. If you have two datasets with the same test set, but one dataset has one extra reflection that contains no data, only indices, then the two datasets will have different hex digests even though they are for all practical purposes equivalent. In this case you would want to ignore the hex-digest warning.

If you get an R-free flags mismatch error, you can tell autobuild to ignore the warning with:


and you can tell phenix.refine to ignore it with:


You can also simply delete the REMARK record from your PDB file if you wish to ignore the hex-digest warnings.

Can I use the autobuild wizard at low resolution?

The standard building with AutoBuild does not work very well at resolutions below about 3-3.2 A. In particular, the wizard tends to build strands into helical regions at low resolution. However you can specify "helices_strands_only=True" and the wizard will just build regions that are helical or beta-sheet, using a completely different algorithm. This is much quicker than standard building but much less complete as well.

My autobuild composite OMIT job crashed because my computer crashed. Can I go on without redoing all the work that has been done?

Yes, but it involves several steps:

You will want to edit this to match the number of OMIT regions in your case.

Does the RESOLVE database of density distributions contain RNA/protein examples?

The RESOLVE database doesn't have RNA+protein in it, nor does it have low-resolution histograms, but you can create a new entry very easily. Here is how:

-Now the file hist_values.dat will have your histograms:

5.002693       32.71021      !  resolution Boverall
1   ! 1=protein 2 = solvent
0.10198E-01    1.8145       0.41525E-01  ! a1 a2 a3
0.14425E-01   0.46920       0.77521      ! a4 a5 a6
0.23653E-06   0.34718E-08    0.0000      ! a7 a8 a9

2   ! 1=protein 2 = solvent
0.27101E-01    6.4460      -0.61802      ! a1 a2 a3
0.12788E-01   0.55421      -0.39797E-02  ! a4 a5 a6
0.0000        0.0000        0.0000      ! a7 a8 a9

which should match what you pasted in to the rho.list you know it took your histograms.

If I run autobuild with after_autosol=True, how do I know which run of autosol it will use?

Autobuild will look through all the autosol runs and choose the solution with the highest final score, and use that one. You can see this near the beginning of the autobuild run:

Appending solution 4060.75360229 1 75.3602294036
exptl_fobs_phases_freeR_flags_1.mtz solve_1.mtz
Appending solution 59.3469818876 2 59.3469818876 None solve_2.mtz
Best solution 4060.75360229 1 75.3602294036
exptl_fobs_phases_freeR_flags_1.mtz solve_1.mtz AutoSol_run_2_

In this case it took run 2 with the solution solve_1.mtz with score of 4060.7 over the solution solve_2.mtz with score of 59.

If you want to choose a different autosol solution, then you will need to explicitly tell autobuild all the files that you want to use:

phenix.autobuild data=AutoSol_run_5_/exptl_fobs_freer_flags_3.mtz \
map_file=AutoSol_run_5_/resolve_3.mtz \


Is there a way to use autobuild to combine a set of models created by multi-start simulated annealing?

You can do this in two ways. Both involve the keyword:

consider_main_chain_list="pdb1.pdb pdb2.pdb pdb3.pdb"

which lets you suggest a set of models to autobuild to consider in model-building.

You can use this with rebuild_in_place (all your models should have the same atoms, just with different coordinates):

phenix.autobuild data.mtz  map_file=map.mtz seq_file= seq.dat \
model=coords1.pdb rebuild_in_place=True merge_models=true \
consider_main_chain_list=" coords2.pdb coords3.pdb" \
number_of_parallel_models=1 n_cycle_rebuild_max=1

You can also use it with rebuild_in_place=False (any fragments or models are ok):

phenix.autobuild data.mtz  map_file=map.mtz seq_file= seq.dat \
model=coords1.pdb rebuild_in_place=False \
consider_main_chain_list=" coords2.pdb coords3.pdb" \
number_of_parallel_models=1 n_cycle_rebuild_max=1

I ran AutoSol to get a partial model that I now want to refine. Which data file should I give as input: the original .sca file from HKL2000, or the file overall_best_refine_data.mtz from AutoSol?

Always use the MTZ file output by AutoSol. This contains a new set of R-free flags that have been used to refine the model; starting over with the .sca file will result in a new set of flags being generated, which biases R-free.

I have a partial model that I used as input for AutoBuild. The output model contains the same atoms and hasn't added anything. Why doesn't it build additional residues?

If the input model matches the sequence (above 50% identity cutoff) and rebuild_in_place=Auto (the default), AutoBuild will only rebuild existing atoms without adding or removing anything. Setting rebuild_in_place=False will instead tell AutoBuild to generate an entirely new model (although it will also use good parts of the input model in the process), but this risks throwing out some existing atoms. Alternately, see the answer to the next question.

I have a partial model - how do I tell AutoBuild to build new atoms without changing the existing ones?

Specify the partial model as "ligands" (input_lig_file_list), and it will be included in refinement but otherwise left alone. This may not extend existing chains, however (only build new chains).


How can I include high-resolution data and phase extend my map?

You can do this in autobuild with:

phenix.autobuild data=data.mtz hires_file=high_res_data.mtz maps_only=True

There are many variations on using maps_only=True as a way to run density modification. You can also specify a model with model=mymodel.pdb and the model information will be used in density modification. If you have a model you can also specify ps_in_rebuild=True to get a prime-and-switch map.

When should I use multi-crystal averaging?

Multi-crystal averaging is going to be useful only if the crystals are completely different or the amplitudes are nearly uncorrelated. In cases where there are only small changes the averaging procedure has almost nothing different in the two structures to work with and it won't do much. Another way to say this is that multi-crystal averaging works because two or more very different ways of sampling the Fourier transform of the molecule are occurring, and each must be consistent with the corresponding measured data. If the molecules are nearly the same and the measured data are nearly the same in all cases, then there are few constraints on the phases.

Yes, experimental phases can be included in multi-crystal averaging, just as for NCS averaging. And yes, experimental phases are most helpful.

If some regions are different in the different crystals, then the masking procedure needs to be adjusted to exclude the variable regions from the averaging process.

Can I make density modified phase combination (partial model phases and experimental phases) in PHENIX?

Yes, you get these if you use:

phenix.autobuild model=partial_model.pdb data=exptl_phases_hl_etc.mtz
rebuild_in_place=False seq_file=seq.dat

The model is used to generate phases by a variation on statistical density modification. These phases are then combined with the experimental phases and then the combined phases are density modified. Then the result is density modified including the model. So the file image.mtz is exptl phases + model phases, and image_only_dm.mtz is image.mtz, density modified. Then resolve_work.mtz is image_only_dm.mtz, density modified further using the model as a target for density modification along with histograms, solvent flattening, ncs, etc.

What are my options for OMIT maps if I have 4 fold NCS axis?

Using the keyword omit_box_pdb is a good way of omitting a single small region, or a series of small regions, one at a time. If you want to get a complete sa_omit map or many regions, then skip the omit_box_pdb command and let autobuild make a composite omit map covering the whole a.u.. Use the omit_box_pdb to define a single region that you want omitted (such as a few residues or a loop...)

If you have ncs, you cannot conveniently delete all the copies at once with omit_box_pdb. You can delete the 4 copies one at a time by specifying a list of omit regions however. To omit a list of regions, do it like this:

omit_res_start_list="100 500" omit_res_end_list="200 600"
omit_chain_list="L M"

to omit chain L residues 100-200 and then separately chain M residues 500-600.

It shouldn't matter much if you turn off ncs while doing an omit map because the ncs copy won't be used in density modification during the process. However NCS will be used to restrain any coordinates.