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Logo of nihpaAbout Author manuscriptsSubmit a manuscriptHHS Public Access; Author Manuscript; Accepted for publication in peer reviewed journal;
ISME J. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2010 November 5.
Published in final edited form as:
Published online 2010 February 25. doi:  10.1038/ismej.2010.16
PMCID: PMC2974434

PANGEA: pipeline for analysis of next generation amplicons


High-throughput DNA sequencing can identify organisms and describe population structures in many environmental and clinical samples. Current technologies generate millions of reads in a single run, requiring extensive computational strategies to organize, analyze and interpret those sequences. A series of bioinformatics tools for high-throughput sequencing analysis, including preprocessing, clustering, database matching and classification, have been compiled into a pipeline called PANGEA. The PANGEA pipeline was written in Perl and can be run on Mac OSX, Windows or Linux. With PANGEA, sequences obtained directly from the sequencer can be processed quickly to provide the files needed for sequence identification by BLAST and for comparison of microbial communities. Two different sets of bacterial 16S rRNA sequences were used to show the efficiency of this workflow. The first set of 16S rRNA sequences is derived from various soils from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The second set is derived from stool samples collected from diabetes-resistant and diabetes-prone rats. The workflow described here allows the investigator to quickly assess libraries of sequences on personal computers with customized databases. PANGEA is provided for users as individual scripts for each step in the process or as a single script where all processes, except the χ2 step, are joined into one program called the ‘backbone’.

Keywords: 16S rRNA, high throughput sequencing, microbial ecology, bioinformatics


The analysis of amplified and sequenced 16S rRNA genes has become the most important single approach for the rapid identification and classification of prokaryotes. Amplicons from high-throughput sequencing by 454/Roche can generate many thousands of 16S rRNA sequences per sample, and unlike Sanger sequencing it does not require time-consuming clone library construction (Roesch et al., 2007, 2009a; Hamady et al., 2008; Liu et al., 2008). These techniques provide short sequences (average of 100 to 400 bases) that have been applied to the study of microbial communities in aquatic and soil environments (Edwards et al., 2006; Sogin et al., 2006; Huber et al., 2007; Roesch et al., 2007; Brown et al., 2009; Jones et al., 2009; Miller et al., 2009), analysis of rat, human and macaque gut microbiota (Liu et al., 2007; Andersson et al., 2008; Dethlefsen et al., 2008; McKenna et al., 2008; Roesch et al., 2009a, b) and other human microniches (Dowd et al., 2008; Luna et al., 2007; Armougom and Raoult, 2008; Fierer et al., 2008; Keijser et al., 2008; Price et al., 2009). As the use of high-throughput sequencing is increasing, user-friendly computing tools are needed to quickly and easily manipulate and analyze the results.

To reduce the cost of the new generation sequencing, a barcoding procedure was developed that incorporates an identifying nucleotide sequence at the 5′-end of every 454 read (Thomas et al., 2006). The barcoding approach allows the construction of a single 454 library before pyrosequencing that contains sequences from many different samples. Over time, the barcoding method has been optimized especially for culture-independent analyses of microbial community composition by adding the barcode sequence to one of the primers used to amplify 16S rRNA (Parameswaran et al., 2007; Hamady et al., 2008).

PANGEA (Pipeline for Analysis of Next Generation Amplicons) is a workflow designed to manipulate, analyze and identify high-throughput reads (Figure 1). PANGEA analyzes barcoded sequences and performs all necessary steps, from trimming the raw sequence data to the identification of each read in a sample. These tools also include statistical analysis to determine whether samples vary in the abundance of specific taxa. Although PANGEA is described in the context of 16S rRNA sequencing, the tools it provides can be used for the analysis of any barcoded, amplicon sequencing project and can be tailored to any database of interest to the user.

Figure 1
PANGEA workflow. Overview of the pipeline analyses that flow from the raw datasets to the χ2 and Shannon diversity index results.

Materials and methods

PANGEA code was written in Perl, R, and Python because interpreters for these languages are available on all three major platforms: Mac OSX, Linux and Windows. The source codes are freely available in and in the website Two data sets are used as examples to illustrate the usefulness of PANGEA. The number of reads available from each data set after trimming and barcode separation and removal is shown in Table 1. The numbering of the subheadings below refers to specific scripts used in PANGEA (Figure 1, Table 2). Example command lines and parameter definitions for Mac OSX are listed for each step below (Table 2).

Table 1
Number of pyrosequencing reads obtained from each sample after trimming and barcoding split and the percentage of sequences classified at 95% level of similarity
Table 2
Example of command lines and parameter definitions for Mac OSX used by PANGEA

1 Pre processing of the 16S rRNA barcoded nucleotide sequences

1.1 Data sets and barcoding previous sequencing

Two independent pyrosequencing-generated 16S rRNA fragment libraries are used to show PANGEA (Table 1). The first set of sequences contains barcoded sequences amplified from DNA isolated from 20 fecal samples collected from Bio-Breeding Diabetes-Resistant (BB-DR) and Bio-Breeding Diabetes-Prone (BB-DP) rats described previously (Roesch et al., 2009a). Sampling, DNA extraction, PCR amplification and sequencing for this library were described previously (Roesch et al., 2009a).

The second set of sequences was obtained from the 16S rRNA amplification products of DNA isolated from seven surface soil samples collected at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in May 2008, from diverse altitudes, different ages since the last volcanic eruption and varying vegetation cover. Triplicate samples from each site were frozen (−20°C) before transportation and then stored at −80°C until total DNA had been extracted using MoBio Power Soil extraction kit (MoBio, Carlsbad, CA, USA), amplified using primers described by Roesch et al. (2007), with the self-correcting barcode set from Hamady et al. (2008).

1.2 Sequencing and quality adjustment of sequences:

Sequences were generated using a GS FLX 454 DNA pyrosequencer (454 Life Sciences, Branford, CT, USA). A total of 89 847 and 275 529 reads were obtained for the rat and soil samples, respectively. Pre-processing of the 454-sequences data set was performed to remove short sequences and trim those sequences that contain bases with low quality scores. To perform this task, Xiaoqui Huang of Iowa State University provided a script called Trim2 (Huang et al., 2003), which was translated from C into Perl for use in PANGEA. This revised script also contains the function, ‘chomp’, which deletes information such as sequence length and ranking as well as data about the pyrosequencing plate.

1.3 Barcoding split and removal

A perl script named was written to search for the barcodes in the trimmed file and split them into different files for each barcode. This script splits the input.fas file according to the identified barcode sequence, removes the actual barcode sequence from each read and inserts the barcode number at the beginning of each sequence ID.

If the barcode is missing or present in the sequence at a location other than the beginning of the read, the sequence is removed and placed in a file of sequences lacking a barcode or in a file containing faulty sequences. The user may inspect these files to trouble-shoot errors in sequencing.

2 Identifying organisms responsible for variation

2.1 Working with the original number of sequences

For the identification of organisms present in a population, the files containing the sequences obtained after barcode split were used to run Megablast and the scripts that follow.

2.2 Standalone BLAST search - Megablast

Megablast is part of the package called BLAST (Zhang et al., 2000) and is available from NCBI. The sequences were phylogenetically classified using a standalone BLAST against a modified bacterial RDP-II database prepared using TaxCollector (, which attaches complete taxonomic information from domain to species to each sequence in the database and can be obtained from The closest bacterial relative was assigned to each sequence corresponding to the best match in the database.

The file generated by Megablast contains the Query ID (sequence name), Subject ID (name of the most closest related bacteria), percentage of identity between query and subject, alignment length, number of mismatches, gap openings, query start, query end, subject start, subject end, e-Value and bit score.

2.3 Unclassified sequences selection

The sequences not classified by Megablast (item 2.2) were captured using a perl script called unclassified selector (, which recognizes the unclassified sequences directly from the Megablast output file at any given similarity level and generates a new file containing those sequences.

2.4 Clustering the unclassified sequences – CD-HIT and

Sequences obtained by the were merged using a Unix cat command in Mac and Linux. In windows, a custom script performs this function. The sequences are then submitted to CD-HIT to be clustered into Operational Taxonomic Units (OTU) based on the relatedness of the sequences. CD-HIT (Cluster Database at High Identity with Tolerance; Li and Godzik, 2006) is a fast and flexible tool that uses a short word filter instead of many pairwise sequence alignments such as the BLAST algorithm (Li and Godzik, 2006). CD-HIT-EST is one of the scripts inserted into the CD-HIT and it is appropriate for non-intron containing sequences, such as prokaryote genomes. Two specific parameters were used in this step, the sequence identity threshold (-c), which was defined here as 0.80 similarity to Domain/Phylum, 0.90 to Class/Order/Family, 0.95 to Genus and 0.99 to Species level (CD-HIT can use several cutoffs ranging from 40 to 99% similarity) and word length (-n) defined here as 8 (8 for thresholds 0.9 to 1.0; word length decreases with the similarity).

2.5 Clustering the classified sequences – and

Sequences classified by Megablast were grouped into OTUs based on the relatedness of classification. In this study, queries/subjects were grouped into OTUs at the above similarity levels. A perl script called was written, which uses two different input files: the Megablast output file containing the best matches and a FASTA file containing the sequences from each sample. The output file generated is a tabular file containing the OTU name, number of sequences present in each OTU cluster based on a specific threshold, followed by the sequence ID of the longest query sequence that was retained as the representative sequence of the cluster.

2.6 Obtaining a hybrid table with classified and unclassified OTUs –

To access the microbial diversity among the samples, a hybrid table was prepared by combining the unclassified clusters obtained by CD-HIT (item 2.3) and the classified OTUs obtained by Megablast (item 2.4). For this purpose, tables generated by (item 2.3) and (item 2.4) were merged using a script called

2.7 Taxa differences between samples, the χ2-test with a P-value

A table containing the results was generated showing the number of OTUs present in the library as well as the number of sequences in each environment. To determine whether specific clusters of bacteria differ between environments, an exact χ2-test (based on 50 000 Monte Carlo iterations) was performed to get a P-value for the null hypothesis that there was no difference between all possible pairwise combinations of time points. The exact test, based on permutations, is not sensitive to zero counts in the bacterial relatives. The P-values were ordered and processed to obtain a false discovery rate of less than 1%.

The Chi-Square tool is used after the hybrid table prepared in the step above and automatically runs a script in R. The user defines the pairs to be compared.

3 Statistical analyses of microbial communities

3.1 Normalizing the number of sequences –

To access microbial diversity, the number of reads analyzed was normalized to the same number of reads in each sample. This was done by identifying the sample with the smallest number of reads and selecting the number of sequences from all samples by randomly selecting sequences from the fasta file using a perl script called

3.2 to 3.7 Shannon diversity index

To assess the microbial diversity among the samples, a diversity index was calculated based on a hybrid table comprised by the classifiable sequences clusters obtained by Megablast and unclassified clusters obtained by CD-HIT. For this purpose, files containing the same number of sequences (generated by the script were submitted to the same methodology described in steps 2.2 to 2.6.

A hybrid table containing the number of sequences from all classified and unclassified clusters was built for each sample. The Shannon diversity index was determined for each sample using the script called and the hybrid table output file.

For comparison purposes, the Shannon index was also calculated using the results obtained in the hybrid table generated with the original number of sequences (see item 2.6).

4 PANGEA Backbone

The backbone was designed to integrate PANGEA scripts into a single system for rapid analysis of the sequences. The PANGEA backbone can be downloaded as a zip folder and requires the original fasta file containing the sequences (input.fas), the quality scores file (input.qual.fas), the database to be used by Megablast (database.fas) and a text file containing the barcodes number and their respective sequences (barcode.txt).


Classification of the sequences and the χ2-test

The most dominant Phylum detected in BB-DP and BB-DR rats were Firmicutes with 76% and 73.15% of the total sequences, and Bacteroidetes with 9.42% and 11.78% of the total sequences, respectively. A χ2-test was used to determine which OTUs were different between BB-DP and BB-DR samples in all the taxonomic levels. Based on that, eight genera were found to be statistically more abundant in the BB-DP at 95% of similarity (Figure 2 and Supplementary Table S1).

Figure 2
Percent relative change of eight bacterial genera that differ statistically in the χ2-test (P-value≤0.01) in the BB-DP and BB-DR rat stool samples.

The percent of sequences classified at genus level (95%) for BB-DP and BB-DR was 47.6% and 50.6%, respectively. A total of 164 bacterial OTUs were identified as inhabitants of the 20 rats stool samples. The most abundant genera found in rat samples were Clostridium, Ruminococcus, Lactobacillus, Eubacterium and Bacteroides. Of these, Ruminococcus and Eubacterium were more abundant in BB-DP and Clostridium, Lactobacillus and Bacteroides were more abundant in BB-DR samples.

For the Hawaiian soil samples, enormous differences among the seven sites were observed. Actino-bacteria and Proteobacteria were found in all seven environments. The number of sequences classified at genus level, as defined by clustering at the 95% similarity level, in seven Hawaiian sites ranged from 5.49% in Mauna Ulu summit to 32.96% in Caldera Rim. A total of 98 bacterial genera were identified in Hawaiian samples.

Most of the families represent less than 1% of the total population in any of the soils. Bacteria belonging to the Family Acidobacteriaceae were present at all sites except by Mauna Ulu mid-altitude (CO site). Bacteria belonging to the Family Sphingomonadaceae were found only in the Caldera Rim site where they represented 2.6% of all reads.

Shannon diversity index

The Shannon diversity index was used to assess the diversity between BB-DP and BB-DR rats and between the seven Hawaiian soil microbial communities. To compare the diversity of these communities, Shannon diversity index was measured in two hybrid tables, one containing the original number of sequences and in the other where the sequences were normalized. The average of Shannon diversity index for BB-DP and BB-DR communities was H′ = 4.15 and H′ = 4.03, respectively, when the results were normalized to the same number of reads in each sample. When the files containing the original number of sequences were analyzed, the Shannon index was H′ = 4.36 and H′ = 4.23, for BB-DP and BB-DR, respectively. There were no significant differences among the BB-DR and BB-DP communities. However, as expected, the Hawaiian soil communities differed greatly from each other with the Shannon diversity indices ranging from H′ = 2.71 in the Caldera Rim community to H′ = 4.34 at the Mauna Ulu summit site, the results of which were obtained from a normalized data set (Table 1).


Two 16S rRNA gene high-throughput sequencing datasets were analyzed using a workflow called PANGEA. The objective was to provide a specific set of new tools that take advantage of previously published tools to allow rapid characterization of microbial communities and identification of their members. The rat data set was analyzed in 24 h using a Mac Book Pro with Mac OSX version 10.6.2, 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo and 4 GB 667 MHz DDR2 SDRAM. This analysis included the initial steps for processing the sequences and the taxonomic classification using Megablast. Megablast is the most time consuming step and is used twice during the process. It is used to perform an accurate classification of the organisms and to calculate the Shannon diversity index of each community. In this work, a unique 16S rRNA database called RDP-TaxCollector was created using a set of scripts called TaxCollector ( Each 16S rRNA sequence in the TaxCollector database is derived from classified isolates and has full taxonomic assignments, from Phylum to Species, for the majority of these sequences.

Classification of the 16S rRNA gene fragments from high-throughput sequencing requires the manipulation of over 300 000 000 sequences in a single file. Tools such as CD-HIT, the RDP Pipeline, and DOTUR (Schloss and Handelsman, 2005) cluster the sequences before reducing the number of sequences to be analyzed. For instance, CD-HIT organizes sequences into clusters and identifies the longest sequence as the representative sequence of the cluster.

However, the longest sequence might not be the closest best nucleotide match for taxonomic classification. PANGEA aligns and identifies the sequences within each library before the clustering step. This ensures that every sequence is classified at the genus and species levels before clustering. It also provides a more accurate identification of each sequence than that provided when clustering is done before classification. The use of the TaxCollector database inside PANGEA allows the user to classify the sequences at seven taxonomic levels, Domain to Species. These classifications can be used to enumerate the number of sequences found at each taxonomic level and determine any differences between treatments using the χ2-test. Using the TaxCollector database, significant differences were found within each taxonomic level (Figure 2 and Supplementary Table S1) with the data set obtained from BB-DR and BB-DP rat stool samples. In addition, an R script to compute P-values allows the user to identify those taxa that differ significantly at a given P-value.

The consequences of clustering after classification as is done here, as opposed to clustering before classification as in Roesch et al. (2009a, b), can be significant. Clustering before classification using CD-HIT can artificially create clusters because of its dependence on sequence length. The sequences represented by a cluster sequence can then fall into a cluster that does not match its best match in the database. As a result, fewer, and in some cases different genera are observed differing significantly between DR and DP in this work than were observed in our previous work (Roesch et al., 2009a, b). The main themes remain the same in both analyses. That is, probiotic genera such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are significantly higher in DR than DP, but subtle differences do occur between the two studies (Figure 2 and Supplementary Table S1). In addition, the RDP database includes new genera since the publication of Roesch et al. (2009a, b). In some cases, these new genera were once a subset of a genus described in the original paper.

Some barcoded sequence data sets have a high disparity between the number of fragments in each sample sequenced. This might be due to an error in quantification while creating a master DNA pool by combining the purified products in equimolar ratios before pyrosequencing library construction, resulting in different number of sequences for each sample. Another possibility in pyrosequencing data sets is that a significant proportion of sequences simply lacks the barcode and is discarded into separate files by To minimize the effect of this disparity in the number of sequences in each barcode file, the PANGEA workflow normalizes the data before community analysis. That is, the number of sequences in each sample within a barcoded set is identical and based on the number available in the least represented sample. The RDP Pipeline (Cole et al., 2009) and mothur (Schloss et al., 2009) manipulate files containing the original number of sequences without taking the disparity between the number of sequences between samples into consideration. This is particularly important when dealing with diversity indices. Diversity index values increase with sample size making normalization of the number of sequences in all samples crucial (Patil and Taillie, 1982).

The Shannon index was calculated for each data set in two situations to show the importance of normalization: first, using the hybrid table originated from the files containing the original number of sequences; second, using the hybrid table obtained from the files containing the same number of sequences in all the files (Table 1). To cluster the Megablast non-classified sequences, CD-HIT uses a merged file containing the sequences identified by name for each sample. As the clustering step by CD-HIT leads to a different number of clusters depending on the number of sequences in the data set to be analyzed, the non-normalized data set contains more sequences and consequently more clusters. This explains the increase in the Shannon indices when calculated from the original number of sequences (Table 1).

PANGEA is designed to manipulate high throughput sequences and can be used in combination with other tools available to analyze and characterize microbial population, such as the RDP Pyrosequencing Pipeline (Cole et al., 2009) and mothur (Schloss et al., 2009). With PANGEA, each tool is available to the user separately so that the analysis can be adjusted to specific needs. The steps described in PANGEA should be followed in the prescribed order, but they can be tailored to fit the needs of any assortment of analyses. Although the two examples here are from 454-pyrosequencing libraries, these tools can be used to analyze different libraries independent of the high-throughput technology used. In addition, they can be applied to barcoded, amplified samples for any gene. The user need only define the database used to identify the organisms or genes present in the samples.

PANGEA offers the following advantages over all other tools currently available for 16S rRNA analyses. First, PANGEA normalizes the data sets to give equal sample sizes between treatments. This is essential to obtain valid diversity indices whether done by the Shannon method or other means. Second, PANGEA classifies each read in an automated fashion as opposed to clustering the reads first. Third, PANGEA clusters the unclassified sequences to get a complete sense of the diversity of a sample. Fourth, PANGEA has tremendous flexibility. It can be used as a complete pipeline taking raw reads through to the production of tables used in statistical analysis and the calculation of a diversity index. The programs can also be used individually to solve specific tasks. For example, if a user only needs to classify a set of reads, the Megablast tool can be used with our new TaxCollector databases. If a user simply wants to split the sequence set by the barcodes and remove the barcodes, the program is able to do that.

There are also several specific advantages of PANGEA over the RDP Pipeline. First, PANGEA is not web-based. Although at first this may appear to be a difficult hurdle, the format chosen for PANGEA leads to advantages, shared with other stand alone tools. The user does not need to upload data to a remote site, which is becoming increasingly difficult, as data sets get larger, and may not be desirable for privacy and confidentiality reasons. The user can devote as much or as little computer power to the job as needed. The user does not have to wait in a queue for his/her work to be finished. The user can modify the tools or use any subset of them for a particular task.

Second, the RDP Pipeline is not automated in the sense that a final output is provided to the user after a number of steps. Instead, an output is provided to the user at each step. That output must be resubmitted to the RDP Pipeline for the next step. In contrast, PANGEA can be used as an automated pipeline with a single input act from the user resulting in final files after a variety of analyses. Third, the source code for the RDP Pipeline software is not available and hence, cannot be modified by the user. Fourth, in the RDP Pipeline, the analysis must begin with raw sequence data that includes the quality scores. This prevents the user from analyzing data sets that have been submitted to GenBank that have been trimmed, lack barcodes and quality scores. Thus, the RDP Pipeline is not useful for the rapid re-analysis of data. In PANGEA, a fasta file obtained from GenBank can be entered into the process. Fifth, the RDP Pipeline requires that the primer sequences be known. This is not required in PANGEA. And finally, with the RDP Pipeline, the user is completely dependent on the databases provided by RDP. In PANGEA, the user defines the database.

Supplementary Material

Pangea Supplement


This research was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation (MCB-0454030), United States Department of Agriculture (2005-35319-16300 and 00067345), and the Florida Agricultural Experiment Station.


Supplementary Information accompanies the paper on The ISME Journal website (


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