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
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,
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!
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.
I have co-authored a paper together with, among others, Henrik Nilsson that was published today in MycoKeys. The paper deals with checking quality of DNA sequences prior to using them for research purposes. In our opinion, a lot of the software available for sequence quality management is rather complex and resource intensive. Not everyone have the skills to master such software, and in addition computational resources might also be scarce. Luckily, there’s a lot that can be done in quality control of DNA sequences just using manual means and a web browser. This paper puts these means together into one comprehensible and easy-to-digest document. Our targeted audience is primaily biologists who do not have a strong background in computer science, and still have a dataset requiring DNA sequence quality control.
We have chosen to focus on the fungal ITS barcoding region, but the guidelines should be pretty general and applicable to most groups of organisms. In very short our five guidelines spells:
- ￼￼￼Establish that the sequences come from the intended gene or marker
Can be done using a multiple alignment of the sequences and verifying that they all feature some suitable, conserved sub-region (the 5.8S gene in the ITS case)
- Establish that all sequences are given in the correct (5’ to 3’) orientation
Examine the alignment for any sequences that do not align at all to the others; re-orient these; re-run the alignment step; and examine them again
- Establish that there are no (at least bad cases of) chimeras in the dataset
Run the sequences through BLAST in one of the large sequence databases, e.g. at NCBI (or in the ITS case, use the UNITE database), to verify that the best match comprises more or less the full length of the query sequences
- Establish that there are no other major technical errors in the sequences
Examine the BLAST results carefully, particularly the graphical overview and the pairwise alignment, for anomalies (there are some nice figures in the paper on how it should and should not look like)
- Establish that any taxonomic annotations given to the sequences make sense
Examine the BLAST hit list to see that the species names produced make sense
A much more thorough description of these guidelines can be found in the paper itself, which is available under open access from MycoKeys. There’s simply no reason not to go there and at least take a look at it. Happy quality control!
Nilsson RH, Tedersoo L, Abarenkov K, Ryberg M, Kristiansson E, Hartmann M, Schoch CL, Nylander JAA, Bergsten J, Porter TM, Jumpponen A, Vaishampayan P, Ovaskainen O, Hallenberg N, Bengtsson-Palme J, Eriksson KM, Larsson K-H, Larsson E, Kõljalg U: Five simple guidelines for establishing basic authenticity and reliability of newly generated fungal ITS sequences. MycoKeys. Issue 4 (2012), 37–63. doi: 10.3897/mycokeys.4.3606 [Paper link]