25 years of serving the community with ribosomal RNA gene reference databases and tools

J Biotechnol. 2017 Nov 10;261:169-176. doi: 10.1016/j.jbiotec.2017.06.1198. Epub 2017 Jun 23.


SILVA (lat. forest) is a comprehensive web resource, providing services around up to date, high-quality datasets of aligned ribosomal RNA gene (rDNA) sequences from the Bacteria, Archaea, and Eukaryota domains. SILVA dates back to the year 1991 when Dr. Wolfgang Ludwig from the Technical University Munich started the integrated software workbench ARB (lat. tree) to support high-quality phylogenetic inference and taxonomy based on the SSU and LSU rDNA marker genes. At that time, the ARB project maintained both, the sequence reference datasets and the software package for data analysis. In 2005, with the massive increase of DNA sequence data, the maintenance of the software system ARB and the corresponding rRNA databases SILVA was split between Munich and the Microbial Genomics and Bioinformatics Research Group in Bremen. ARB has been continuously developed to include new features and improve the usability of the workbench. Thousands of users worldwide appreciate the seamless integration of common analysis tools under a central graphical user interface, in combination with its versatility. The first SILVA release was deployed in February 2007 based on the EMBL-EBI/ENA release 89. Since then, full SILVA releases offering the database content in various flavours are published at least annually, complemented by intermediate web-releases where only the SILVA web dataset is updated. SILVA is the only rDNA database project worldwide where special emphasis is given to the consistent naming of clades of uncultivated (environmental) sequences, where no validly described cultivated representatives are available. Also exclusive for SILVA is the maintenance of both comprehensive aligned 16S/18S rDNA and 23S/28S rDNA sequence datasets. Furthermore, the SILVA alignments and trees were designed to include Eukaryota, another unique feature among rDNA databases. With the termination of the European Ribosomal RNA Database Project in 2007, the SILVA database has become the authoritative rDNA database project for Europe. The application spectrum of ARB and SILVA ranges from biodiversity analysis, medical diagnostics, to biotechnology and quality control for academia and industry.

Keywords: Alignments; Biodiversity; Databases; Phylogeny; Ribosomal RNA; Taxonomy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Computational Biology*
  • Database Management Systems*
  • Databases, Nucleic Acid*
  • Genes, Archaeal / genetics
  • Genes, Bacterial / genetics
  • Genes, rRNA / genetics*
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Software*