Microbiology, Metagenomics and Bioinformatics

Johan Bengtsson-Palme, University of Gothenburg

Our new home

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Last Friday, our research group moved into our new facilities at the Department of Infectious Diseases. I am very happy with my new room and my new view, both depicted below.

Our new affiliation is:

Department of Infectious Diseases, Institute of Biomedicine, Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg

Postal address:
Avd. för Klinisk bakteriologi/Virologi
Guldhedsgatan 10
SE-413 46 Göteborg

I have recently started to receive requests for full-text versions of my publications on ResearchGate. That’s great, but I have yet to figure out how to send them over, without breaking any agreements. As I am in a somewhat intensive work-period at the moment, please forgive me for not spending time on ResearchGate right now. And if you would like full-text versions of my publications, please send me an e-mail! I’ll be glad to help!

Our paper on the most recent developments of the UNITE database for fungal rDNA ITS sequences has just been published as an Early view article in Molecular Ecology. In this paper, we aim to ease two of the major problems facing the identification of newly generated fungal ITS sequences: the lack of a sufficiently goof reference dataset, and the lack of a way to refer to fungal species without a Latin name. As part of a solution, we have introduced the term species hypothesis for all fungal species represented by at least two ITS sequences. The UNITE database has an easy-to-use web-based sequence management system, and we encourage everybody that can improve on the annotations or metadata of a fungal lineage to do so.

My main contribution on this paper has been to tailor ITSx functionality for the UNITE database, so that ITS data could be more easily processed for the Species Hypotheses.

Paper reference:
Kõljalg U, Nilsson RH, Abarenkov K, Tedersoo L, Taylor AFS, Bahram M, Bates ST, Bruns TT, Bengtsson-Palme J, Callaghan TM, Douglas B, Drenkhan T, Eberhardt U, Dueñas M, Grebenc T, Griffith GW, Hartmann M, Kirk PM, Kohout P, Larsson E, Lindahl BD, Lücking R, Martín MP, Matheny PB, Nguyen NH, Niskanen T, Oja J, Peay KG, Peintner U, Peterson M, Põldmaa K, Saag L, Saar I, Schüßler A, Senés C, Smith ME, Suija A, Taylor DE, Telleria MT, Weiß M, Larsson KH: Towards a unified paradigm for sequence-based identification of Fungi. Accepted in Molecular Ecology. doi: 10.1111/mec.12481 [Paper link]

An ITSx user informed me a couple of days ago of an issue that caused ITSx to sometimes accidentally remove the HMM-files in the database when multiple ITSx jobs were run in parallel. Although this issue should be relatively rare, it was also very easy to fix. Therefore, we already push out a new version of ITSx (1.0.3), which is available for download here.

In short, the bug was introduced because I overlooked this usage scenario when fixing another bug related to the HMM-files in an earlier pre-release. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that version 1.0.3 will be more long-lived than 1.0.2!

The paper describing our software tool ITSx has now gone online as an Early View paper on the Methods in Ecology and Evolution website. The software just recently left its beta-status behind, and with the paper out as well, we hope that as many people as possible will find use for the software in barcoding efforts of the ITS region. If you’re not familiar with the software – or its predecessor; the fungal ITS Extractor – here is a brief description of what it does:

ITSx is a Perl-based software tool that extracts the ITS1, 5.8S and ITS2 sequences – as well as full-length ITS sequences – from high-throughput sequencing data sets. To achieve this, we use carefully crafted hidden Markov models (HMMs), computed from large alignments of a total of 20 groups of eukaryotes. Testing has shown that ITSx has close to 100% detection accuracy, and virtually zero false-positive extractions. Additionally, it supports multiple processor cores, and is therefore suitable for running also on very large datasets. It is also able to eliminate non-ITS sequences from a given input dataset.

While ITSx supports extractions of ITS sequences from at least 20 different eukaryotic lineages, we ourselves have considerably less experience with many of the eukaryote groups outside of the fungi. We therefore release ITSx with the intent that the research community will evaluate its performance also in other parts of the eukaryote tree, and if necessary contribute data required to address also those lineages in a thorough way.

The ITSx paper can at the moment be cited as:
Bengtsson-Palme, J., Ryberg, M., Hartmann, M., Branco, S., Wang, Z., Godhe, A., De Wit, P., Sánchez-García, M., Ebersberger, I., de Sousa, F., Amend, A. S., Jumpponen, A., Unterseher, M., Kristiansson, E., Abarenkov, K., Bertrand, Y. J. K., Sanli, K., Eriksson, K. M., Vik, U., Veldre, V., Nilsson, R. H. (2013), Improved software detection and extraction of ITS1 and ITS2 from ribosomal ITS sequences of fungi and other eukaryotes for analysis of environmental sequencing data. Methods in Ecology and Evolution. doi: 10.1111/2041-210X.12073

As promised yesterday, I have now uploaded an update to ITSx, bringing it to version 1.0.2. So what’s new in this version?

First of all, ITSx is now taken out of beta and is now considered ready for production use. We do no longer find any bugs in it, and since there’s now a wide range of people already using it for various purposes, we feel confident that any significant bugs would have been unraveled by now.

Secondly, I have also added support for the new HMMER version (3.1b) released in May in this version of ITSx. So you can now go ahead and install HMMER 3.1 if you want to try out the new HMMER beta and still be able to use ITSx.

Finally, we have also updated the manual somewhat, hopefully making it a little easier to use ITSx for a first-time user.

Version 1.0.2 of ITSx can be downloaded from here. As previously, you may still report any bugs, strange behaviors, ideas for new features, or inconsistencies with certain lineages, by mailing to “itsx” at this domain name.

As you might be aware, a new version of HMMER is out since late May. You might wonder how Metaxa (relying on HMMER3) will work if you update to the new version of HMMER, and I have finally got around to test it! The answer, according to my somewhat limited testing, is that Metaxa 1.1.2 seems to be working fine with HMMER 3.1.

You might need to go into the database directory (“metaxa_db”; should be located in the same directory as the Metaxa binaries), and remove all the files ending with suffixes .h3f .h3i .h3m and .h3p inside the “HMMs” directory. On most installation, this should not be necessary. Myself, I just plugged HMMER 3.1 in and started Metaxa, but if you get error messages complaining that “Error: bad format, binary auxfiles, .hmm:
binary auxfiles are in an outdated HMMER format (3/b); please hmmpress your HMM file again”, then you should try removing the files and re-running Metaxa. This might especially be a problem on older Metaxa versions. [Update: Note that this fix will likely not work with ITSx!]

Bear in mind that I have not run thorough testing on Metaxa and HMMER 3.1, and probably won’t for the 1.1.2 version, since there’s a 2.0 version waiting just around the corner…

Additionally, if you experience problems with Megraft, you should try the same fix as for Metaxa, but with the Megraft database directory instead. Regarding ITSx, a minor update will be released very soon, which also will address HMMER 3.1b compatibility. [Update: See this post for how to work around HMMER 3.1 problems with ITSx.]

Happy barcoding everyone!

On a side note, I just joined Research Gate (my profile). I’ve noted that it generates kind of the same kind of belonging-to-a-group feeling that registering on Facebook did way back, when co-author after co-author starts following you. Still, I haven’t figured out exactly what to use it for yet; it certainly seem more useful than academia.edu, with abilities to ask questions etc., but is anyone of you really using ResearchGate for this? Or is it rather just another showcasing window for researchers (much like my Publications page)? Please feel free do add your opinions as comments to this post!

For a couple of years, I have been working with microbial ecology and diversity, and how such features can be assessed using molecular barcodes, such as the SSU (16S/18S) rRNA sequence (the Metaxa and Megraft packages). However, I have also been aiming at the ITS region, and how that can be used in barcoding (see e.g. the guidelines we published last year). It is therefore a great pleasure to introduce my next gem for community analysis; a software tool for detection and extraction of the ITS1 and ITS2 regions of ITS sequences from environmental communities. The tool is dubbed ITSx, and supersedes the more specific fungal ITS extractor written by Henrik Nilsson and colleagues. Henrik is once more the mastermind behind this completely rewritten version, in which I have done the lion’s share of the programming. Among the new features in ITSx are:

  • Robust support for the Cantharellus, Craterellus, and Tulasnella genera of fungi
  • Support for nineteen additional eukaryotic groups on top of the already present support for fungi (specifically these groups: Tracheophyta (vascular plants), Bryophyta (bryophytes), Marchantiophyta (liverworts), Chlorophyta (green algae), Rhodophyta (red algae), Phaeophyceae (brown algae), Metazoa (metazoans), Oomycota (oomycetes), Alveolata (alveolates), Amoebozoa (amoebozoans), Euglenozoa, Rhizaria, Bacillariophyta (diatoms), Eustigmatophyceae (eustigmatophytes), Raphidophyceae (raphidophytes), Synurophyceae (synurids), Haptophyceae (haptophytes) , Apusozoa, and Parabasalia (parabasalids))
  • Multi-processor support
  • Extensive output options
  • Virtually zero false-positive extractions

ITSx is today moved from a private pre-release state to a public beta state. No code changes has been made since February, indicative of that the last pre-release candidate is now ready to fly on its own. As far as our testing has revealed, this version seems to be bug free. In reality though, researchers tend to find the most unexpected usage scenarios. So please, if you find any unexpected behavior in this version of ITSx, send me an e-mail and make us aware of the potential shortcomings of our software.

We expect this open-source software to boost research in microbial ecology based on barcoding of the ITS region, and hope that the research community will evaluate its performance also among the eukaryote groups that we have less experience with.

A long time ago, we (Martin Eriksson, Martin Hartmann, Henrik Nilsson and me) were invited to write an overview on Metaxa for the Encyclopedia of Metagenomics. I guess the workload for pulling such a project off is huge, so there’s no surprise that it has taken a while for it to be accepted, but now it is available for consumption.

Meanwhile, Metaxa have been getting regular updates, and I hope to soon be able to show you a new major update to the software, bringing it up to the next generation of metagenomics. More on that soon.

  • Bengtsson-Palme J, Hartmann M, Eriksson KM, Nilsson RH: Metaxa, overview. In:Nelson K. (Ed.) Encyclopedia of Metagenomics: SpringerReference (www.springerreference.com). Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg (2013). [Link]