PEMA: a flexible Pipeline for Environmental DNA Metabarcoding Analysis of the 16S/18S ribosomal RNA, ITS, and COI marker genes

Gigascience. 2020 Mar 1;9(3):giaa022. doi: 10.1093/gigascience/giaa022.


Background: Environmental DNA and metabarcoding allow the identification of a mixture of species and launch a new era in bio- and eco-assessment. Many steps are required to obtain taxonomically assigned matrices from raw data. For most of these, a plethora of tools are available; each tool's execution parameters need to be tailored to reflect each experiment's idiosyncrasy. Adding to this complexity, the computation capacity of high-performance computing systems is frequently required for such analyses. To address the difficulties, bioinformatic pipelines need to combine state-of-the art technologies and algorithms with an easy to get-set-use framework, allowing researchers to tune each study. Software containerization technologies ease the sharing and running of software packages across operating systems; thus, they strongly facilitate pipeline development and usage. Likewise programming languages specialized for big data pipelines incorporate features like roll-back checkpoints and on-demand partial pipeline execution.

Findings: PEMA is a containerized assembly of key metabarcoding analysis tools that requires low effort in setting up, running, and customizing to researchers' needs. Based on third-party tools, PEMA performs read pre-processing, (molecular) operational taxonomic unit clustering, amplicon sequence variant inference, and taxonomy assignment for 16S and 18S ribosomal RNA, as well as ITS and COI marker gene data. Owing to its simplified parameterization and checkpoint support, PEMA allows users to explore alternative algorithms for specific steps of the pipeline without the need of a complete re-execution. PEMA was evaluated against both mock communities and previously published datasets and achieved results of comparable quality.

Conclusions: A high-performance computing-based approach was used to develop PEMA; however, it can be used in personal computers as well. PEMA's time-efficient performance and good results will allow it to be used for accurate environmental DNA metabarcoding analysis, thus enhancing the applicability of next-generation biodiversity assessment studies.

Keywords: Docker; HPC; container; eDNA; high performance computing; metabarcoding; pipeline; singularity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Archaea
  • Bacteria
  • DNA Barcoding, Taxonomic / methods*
  • DNA Barcoding, Taxonomic / standards
  • DNA, Environmental / chemistry
  • DNA, Environmental / genetics*
  • Electron Transport Complex IV / genetics
  • Fungi
  • Metagenomics / methods*
  • Metagenomics / standards
  • Plants
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 18S / genetics
  • Reference Standards
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Software


  • DNA, Environmental
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 18S
  • Electron Transport Complex IV