Developing and maintaining a DNA reference database can be difficult. The
refdb package has been developed to assist you during the different steps of the process of developing, maintaining and using DNA reference databases efficiently and reproducibly. This vignette will present some of the important functions of the package and help you to get started with it.
The refdb package is available on CRAN, which means that you can easily install the latest stable version using the RStudio IDE or with the function
install.packages. In this tutorial we will also be using functions from several packages of the tidyverse. Therefore, if the
tidyverse package is not already installed on your computer, you are encouraged to install it now.
Once everything is ready, we can start by loading the packages we need:
refdb, a reference database is a simple dataframe. This means that any functions able to read external data and return a dataframe in your R environment can be used to import a reference library. Here, for simplicity, we will assume the reference database is stored as a CSV on your computer’s local harddrive. You can download the example file here (use “Save as”). Then, we can read the file from its location on your computer with:
lib <- read_csv("my_path/ephem.csv")
Note that we use the function
read_csv from tidyverse, which returns a tibble. A tibble is a dataframe with some extra refinements. There is no issue with using tibbles with refdb functions (this is actually encouraged).
Now we have a dataframe (a tibble) in our environment. However, the functions of the refdb package can’t use it directly, as first the actual content stored in each column has to be specified. You have to provide this information, and this can be done using the function
lib <- refdb_set_fields(lib, taxonomy = c(family = "family_name", genus = "genus_name", species = "species_name"), sequence = "DNA_seq", marker = "marker")
Here we explicitly set the taxonomy, sequence, and marker fields by indicating which columns of the dataframe correspond to each of those fields.
If you now print the object
lib, you will see that the nucleotide symbols in the columns DNA_seq are colored. This is because this column has been identified as containing DNA sequences. A simple way to see which fields have been associated with which column is simply to use the function
refdb_get_fields(lib) #> taxonomy: #> family: family_name #> genus: genus_name #> species: species_name #> sequence: DNA_seq #> marker: marker
Note that if you are importing data from some popular reference databases, these functions can save you time:
Once the data are loaded and the fields have been set, we can start to work with the reference database. The first thing we will look at, is how to clean taxonomic names and DNA sequences. Cleaning is different than filtering (that we will see in the next section) in that the objective here is not to remove entries, but to correct them.
Both sequences and taxonomic names can be affected by countless problems, which we do not list here all. However, the refdb package provides functions to deal with many of the common cases. Let’s review some of them.
Let’s take a look at the taxonomy of the 91st record:
lib [91, 1:4] #> # A tibble: 1 x 4 #> order_name family_name genus_name species_name #> <chr> <chr> <chr> <chr> #> 1 Ephemeroptera Leptophlebiidae Thraulodes Thraulodes sp.
Here, the specimen has been identified at the genus level and the species is reported using the notation “sp.”. This is a common notation but not really a practical one when you manage a database. How would you report the family of an organism identified at the class level? In R, a general and efficient way to code for a missing information is simply to use the built-in
refdb_clean_tax_NA can be used to identify taxonomic levels for which there are no information and change them to
lib_na <- refdb_clean_tax_NA(lib) lib_na [91, 1:4] #> # A tibble: 1 x 4 #> order_name family_name genus_name species_name #> <chr> <chr> <chr> <chr> #> 1 Ephemeroptera Leptophlebiidae Thraulodes <NA>
It is common to find taxonomic names to which various information have been added. See the 32nd row of our database:
lib [32, 1:4] #> # A tibble: 1 x 4 #> order_name family_name genus_name species_name #> <chr> <chr> <chr> <chr> #> 1 Ephemeroptera Heptageniidae Epeorus Epeorus longimanus B BG
The species name is tagged “B BG”. This extra information probably meant something to the person who recorded this entry (e.g., some field or identification notes), but is not useful to us and may even be problematic. The function
refdb_clean_tax_remove_extra uses some simple rules to detect these information and remove them:
lib_na_extra <- refdb_clean_tax_remove_extra(lib_na) lib_na_extra [32, 1:4] #> # A tibble: 1 x 4 #> order_name family_name genus_name species_name #> <chr> <chr> <chr> <chr> #> 1 Ephemeroptera Heptageniidae Epeorus Epeorus longimanus
The cleaning functions of refdb uses several rules and heuristics, some of them can produce false positive and false negative. You should always be careful of the functions actions. If you find cases where a function does not what it is expected to do, please report here.
Similarly, it is possible to clean the sequences with different functions. For example, if we want to remove the gaps in the sequences:
head(lib) #> # A tibble: 6 x 8 #> order_name family_name genus_name species_name marker DNA_seq lat lon #> <chr> <chr> <chr> <chr> <chr> <DNA> <dbl> <dbl> #> 1 Ephemeropt… Heptagenii… Epeorus Epeorus fra… COI-5P ATAGTCGGA… 39.5 -79.2 #> 2 Ephemeropt… Oligoneuri… Oligoneur… Oligoneurie… COI-5P GACTTTATA… 42.4 22.5 #> 3 Ephemeropt… Ephemerell… Serratella Serratella … COI-5P ---------… 34.2 -118. #> 4 Ephemeropt… Baetidae Fallceon <NA> COI-5P ---------… 34.2 -119. #> 5 Ephemeropt… Heptagenii… Heptagenia Heptagenia … COI-5P AACTTTATA… 58.7 -94.2 #> 6 Ephemeropt… Heptagenii… Epeorus Epeorus vit… COI-5P AACTCTATA… 46.8 -66.1 lib_nogap <- refdb_clean_seq_remove_gaps(lib) head(lib_nogap) #> # A tibble: 6 x 8 #> order_name family_name genus_name species_name marker DNA_seq lat lon #> <chr> <chr> <chr> <chr> <chr> <DNA> <dbl> <dbl> #> 1 Ephemeropt… Heptagenii… Epeorus Epeorus fra… COI-5P ATAGTCGGA… 39.5 -79.2 #> 2 Ephemeropt… Oligoneuri… Oligoneur… Oligoneurie… COI-5P GACTTTATA… 42.4 22.5 #> 3 Ephemeropt… Ephemerell… Serratella Serratella … COI-5P TGAGTTTTT… 34.2 -118. #> 4 Ephemeropt… Baetidae Fallceon <NA> COI-5P TAAGATTTT… 34.2 -119. #> 5 Ephemeropt… Heptagenii… Heptagenia Heptagenia … COI-5P AACTTTATA… 58.7 -94.2 #> 6 Ephemeropt… Heptagenii… Epeorus Epeorus vit… COI-5P AACTCTATA… 46.8 -66.1
We have only seen a brief overview of the functions available for cleaning up the sequences and their associated taxonomy. Many further functions and options are possible, listed in the table below that summarizes all functions currently available in refdb:
|refdb_clean_seq_remove_gaps||Remove gaps from genetic sequences|
|refdb_clean_seq_remove_sideN||Remove repeated side N from genetic sequences|
|refdb_clean_seq_crop_primers||Crop genetic sequences with a set of primers|
|refdb_clean_tax_remove_blank||Remove blank characters from taxonomic names|
|refdb_clean_tax_remove_extra||Remove extra words from taxonomic names|
|refdb_clean_tax_harmonize_nomenclature||Harmonize taxonomic name nomenclature|
|refdb_clean_tax_remove_uncertainty||Remove terms indicating uncertainty in taxonomic names|
|refdb_clean_tax_remove_subsp||Remove subspecific information from taxonomic names|
|refdb_clean_tax_NA||Convert missing taxonomic names to NA|
Filtering is the step that usually follows cleaning and whose objective is to identify and remove records (rows) that do not satisfy quality criteria (those criteria and associated thresholds are of course specific to each project).
For example, we may want to exclude very short sequences whose length is likely shorter than the targeted genetic marker. Let’s take a look at the distribution of sequence lengths in the database:
refdb_plot_seqlen_hist(lib) #> `stat_bin()` using `bins = 30`. Pick better value with `binwidth`.
To exclude all the sequences shorter than 500 nucleotides we use the function
lib_long <- refdb_filter_seq_length(lib, min_len = 500) nrow(lib) #>  100 nrow(lib_long) #>  94
The function has removed 6 records.
Another, more sophisticated filtering function is
refdb_filter_seq_primer(), which can find sequences that do not contain a motif (typically a primer sequence) and remove them from the reference database.
For example, a commonly used forward primer for metazoan is the mlCOIintF (Leray 2013). If we want to keep only the sequences where this primer is found we can use:
refdb_filter_seq_primer(lib, primer_forward = "GGWACWGGWTGAACWGTWTAYCCYCC") #> # A tibble: 76 x 8 #> order_name family_name genus_name species_name marker DNA_seq lat lon #> <chr> <chr> <chr> <chr> <chr> <DNA> <dbl> <dbl> #> 1 Ephemeropt… Oligoneuri… Oligoneur… Oligoneurie… COI-5P GACTTTAT… 42.4 22.5 #> 2 Ephemeropt… Ephemerell… Serratella Serratella … COI-5P --------… 34.2 -118. #> 3 Ephemeropt… Baetidae Fallceon <NA> COI-5P --------… 34.2 -119. #> 4 Ephemeropt… Heptagenii… Heptagenia Heptagenia … COI-5P AACTTTAT… 58.7 -94.2 #> 5 Ephemeropt… Heptagenii… Epeorus Epeorus vit… COI-5P AACTCTAT… 46.8 -66.1 #> 6 Ephemeropt… Ephemerell… Ephemerel… Ephemerella… COI-5P AACTTTAT… 46.0 -66.7 #> 7 Ephemeropt… Baetidae Baetis Baetis huds… COI-5P CGTTATAT… 67.8 -115. #> 8 Ephemeropt… Polymitarc… Ephoron Ephoron shi… COI-5P GAACTTCT… 34.1 134. #> 9 Ephemeropt… Ephemerell… Serratella Serratella … COI-5P AACTTTAT… 34.2 -118. #> 10 Ephemeropt… Ephemerell… Ephemerel… Ephemerella… COI-5P ACTTTATA… 39.9 -75.8 #> # … with 66 more rows
You can see that only 76 sequences have passed the filter. By default the tolerance of error is 10%. We can change this value using the
refdb_filter_seq_primer(lib, primer_forward = "GGWACWGGWTGAACWGTWTAYCCYCC", max_error_forward = 0.2) #> # A tibble: 99 x 8 #> order_name family_name genus_name species_name marker DNA_seq lat lon #> <chr> <chr> <chr> <chr> <chr> <DNA> <dbl> <dbl> #> 1 Ephemeropt… Heptagenii… Epeorus Epeorus fra… COI-5P ATAGTCG… 39.5 -79.2 #> 2 Ephemeropt… Oligoneuri… Oligoneur… Oligoneurie… COI-5P GACTTTA… 42.4 22.5 #> 3 Ephemeropt… Ephemerell… Serratella Serratella … COI-5P -------… 34.2 -118. #> 4 Ephemeropt… Baetidae Fallceon <NA> COI-5P -------… 34.2 -119. #> 5 Ephemeropt… Heptagenii… Heptagenia Heptagenia … COI-5P AACTTTA… 58.7 -94.2 #> 6 Ephemeropt… Heptagenii… Epeorus Epeorus vit… COI-5P AACTCTA… 46.8 -66.1 #> 7 Ephemeropt… Ephemerell… Ephemerel… Ephemerella… COI-5P AACTTTA… 46.0 -66.7 #> 8 Ephemeropt… Baetidae Baetis Baetis huds… COI-5P CGTTATA… 67.8 -115. #> 9 Ephemeropt… Polymitarc… Ephoron Ephoron shi… COI-5P GAACTTC… 34.1 134. #> 10 Ephemeropt… Baetidae Baetis Baetis rhod… COI-5P AGCTCGG… 52.2 -3.80 #> # … with 89 more rows
By increasing the maximum error rate to 20%, we now retain 99 sequences.
Similarly to the the cleaning functions, there are many filtering functions available in refdb, as shown in the table below:
|refdb_filter_seq_length||Filter sequences based on their number of characters|
|refdb_filter_seq_ambiguous||Filter sequences based on their number of ambiguous characters|
|refdb_filter_seq_homopolymers||Filter sequences based on their number of repeated characters|
|refdb_filter_seq_duplicates||Filter duplicated sequences|
|refdb_filter_seq_stopcodon||Filter sequences based on their number of stop codons|
|refdb_filter_seq_primer||Filter sequences based on the presence of primers|
|refdb_filter_tax_precision||Filter records based on their taxonomic precision|
|refdb_filter_ref_scope||Filter records by taxonomic scope of studies|
Now let’s take a tour of the functions you can use to produce graphical representation of your reference database. Because refdb stores reference database as dataframes it is straightforward to produce plots (e.g. with the tidyverse and
ggplot2). For example, we can make a barplot showing the distribution of the families like this:
lib %>% group_by(family_name) %>% count() %>% ggplot(aes(fct_reorder(family_name, n, .desc = TRUE), n)) + geom_col() + xlab("Family") + ylab("Number of records") + theme(axis.text.x = element_text(angle = 45, vjust = 1, hjust=1))
Additionally, refdb provides ready-to-use functions to produce more sophisticated plots. For example, to represent the taxonomic coverage of your reference library across multiple levels with a tree map:
Alternatively you can represent this information with a taxonomic tree. These functions have several parameters to control what is represented in the plot (taxonomic ranks, colors, etc.).
We conclude our overview of the graphical features of refdb with the
refdb_plot_map function, which can be used to generate interactive maps from the data. Of course this requires the sequences to be geographically located. As we have not yet associated columns to the latitude and longitude fields, we have to do this beforehand:
A report is a simple and rapid way to get an overview of the current state of your reference library and to identify some possible issues. You can compile a report using the function
The result (not shown here) is an interactive HTML report that can be opened in any recent web browser. It contains some statistics and plots, and the results of functions
refdb_check_seq_conflict. These functions can be used to identify possible spelling errors in taxonomic names, conflicts in the taxonomic tree and lack of genetic resolution in sequences, respectively.
Once satisfied with the results, they can be exported for further use. Since the reference database is a dataframe, it is possible to use any export functions (from R or from other packages) that support dataframes. Here we show how to export to CSV using the function
write_csv from the
This will write the actual content of
lib but ignore the fields which have been previously set. We can save them in a separate YAML file using:
Then, the next time you will open this reference database, it will be easy to set the fields again using the argument
config_yaml of the function
lib <- read_csv("my_reference_library.csv") lib <- refdb_set_fields(lib, config_yaml = "my_reference_fields.yml")