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Serverless METASPACE with Lithops

This repository demonstrates using Lithops to run the METASPACE metabolite annotation pipeline on cloud resources.

METASPACE is a cloud engine for spatial metabolomics that performs molecular annotation of imaging mass spectrometry data. It takes an imaging mass spectrometry dataset and outputs molecules (e.g. metabolites and lipids) which are represented in the dataset, with assigned scores and false discovery rates. METASPACE is free and open source and is developed by the Alexandrov team at EMBL Heidelberg with the generous European and US funding. It is used by a growing community over 500 users across the world. For more information, visit METASPACE website.

Annotating high-resolution imaging mass spectrometry data often requires multiple CPU-days and >100GB of temporary storage, often making it impractical to run on typical desktop computers. Lithops allows processing to be almost seamlessly offloaded to cloud compute resources, rapidly scaling up to use as much compute power is available in your cloud of choice (e.g. 1000 parallel invocations in IBM Cloud) during intensive stages of the pipeline, and scaling down during less parallelizable stages to minimize cost.

This repository includes two variant implementations of the annotation pipeline, selectable through runtime configuration:

  • A purely Serverless Functions implementation, which runs on any cloud Lithops supports (including IBM Cloud, Google Cloud, AWS, Azure and on-premise Knative/OpenWhisk installations).
  • A hybrid Serverless + VM implementation, which enables several pipeline stages to use more efficient but more memory-intensive algorithms on large cloud VMs. This configuration is currently only supported with IBM Cloud and on-premise VMs.

Instructions for use


  • Python 3.8.5
  • An account with a supported cloud provider (if running on a cloud platform)
  • Jupyter Notebook or Jupyter Lab (if running the benchmark notebooks)

1. Installation

Clone and install this repository with the following commands:

git clone
cd Lithops-METASPACE
pip install -e .

2. Lithops Configuration

The purely Serverless and Hybrid implementations have different platform requirements when running on cloud platforms. In "localhost" mode (i.e. not using cloud resources), both implementations are supported.

Localhost mode

This is the default mode. If you don't have any existing Lithops configuration, no configuration is needed. If you have an existing Lithops config file, change the following values:

  mode: "localhost"
  storage: "localhost"
  workers: # Leave this blank to auto-detect CPU count

Pure Serverless mode

Follow the Lithops instructions to configure a Serverless compute backend and a storage backend. Additionally, set the following values in the Lithops config:

  mode: "serverless"
  include_modules: ["annotation_pipeline"]
  data_limit: false
  runtime: "metaspace2020/annotation-pipeline-runtime:1.0.0-ibmcf-python38"

Hybrid mode

Hybrid mode requires both a Standalone and a Serverless executor to be configured, sharing the same storage backend. Currently this combination is only possible with IBM Virtual Private Cloud, IBM Cloud Functions and IBM Cloud Object Storage.

Follow the Lithops instructions to configure the 3 backends. Additionally, set the following values in the Lithops config:

  mode: "serverless"
  include_modules: ["annotation_pipeline"]
  data_limit: false
  runtime: "metaspace2020/annotation-pipeline-runtime:1.0.0-ibmcf-python38"
  runtime: "metaspace2020/annotation-pipeline-runtime:1.0.0-ibmcf-python38"

3. Running the pipeline

Running the example notebooks

Launch Jupyter Notebook and open this directory. The main notebook is annotation-pipeline-demo.ipynb, which allows you to run through the whole pipeline, and see the results at each step.

There are also 3 notebooks prepared for benchmarking:

  1. experiment-1-typical.ipynb - Demonstrates running through the whole Serverless metabolite annotation pipeline with a typical dataset,
    downloading the results and comparing them against the Serverful implementation of METASPACE.
  2. experiment-2-interactive.ipynb - An example of running the pipeline against a smaller set of molecules, to demonstrate the potential of Serverless to provide low-latency access to computating resources.
  3. experiment-3-large.ipynb - A stress test that runs the Serverless metabolite annotation pipeline with a large dataset and many molecular databases.

Running from the command line

usage: python3 -m annotation_pipeline annotate [ds_config.json] [db_config.json] [output path]

positional arguments:
  ds_config.json        ds_config.json path
  db_config.json        db_config.json path
  output                directory to write output files
optional arguments:
  -h, --help            show this help message and exit
  --no-output           prevents outputs from being written to file
  --no-cache            prevents loading cached data from previous runs
  --impl {serverless,hybrid,auto}
                        Selects whether to use the Serverless or Hybrid
                        implementation. "auto" will select the Hybrid
                        implementation if the selected platform is supported
                        and correctly configured (running in localhost mode,
                        or in serverless mode with ibm_vpc configured)

Input data

The main inputs to the pipeline are specified in two JSON files: the dataset and database configs. There are example config files in the [metabolomics][metabolomics] directory.

Dataset configs

Dataset configs should follow this format:

  "name": "****",                                      // A unique name for this dataset (used for caching)
  "imzml_path": "https://****.imzML or C:\****.imzML", // URL or filesystem path to the .imzML file 
  "ibd_path": "https://****.ibd or C:\****.ibd",       // URL or filesystem path to the .ibd file
  "num_decoys": 20,                                    // Number of decoys to use for FDR calculation (can be any integer between 1 and 80) 
  "polarity": "+",                                     // Ionization mode of the dataset ("+" or "-")
  "isocalc_sigma": 0.001238,                           // The "sigma" parameter representing the expected peak width at 200 m/z based on the instrument's resolving power
                                                       // Common values are:
                                                       // RP 70,000 @ 200 m/z: 0.002476
                                                       // RP 140,000 @ 200 m/z: 0.001238
                                                       // RP 200,000 @ 200 m/z: 0.000867
                                                       // RP 280,000 @ 200 m/z: 0.000619
  "metaspace_id": "**** (Optional)"                    // Optional ID of a dataset at to validate the results against

The imzML and ibd files may also be specified as URL-like paths to cloud storage, e.g. cos://datasets/ds.imzML for IBM COS or s3://datasets/ds.imzML for AWS S3.

Database configs

Database configs should follow this format:

  "name": "db_configN",                                // A unique name for this database (used for caching)
  "databases": ["metabolomics/db/mol_db1.csv"],        // Filesystem path to CSV file containing formulas
  "adducts": ["","+H","+Na","+K"],                     // Adducts to search for
  "modifiers": ["", "-H2O", "-CO2", "-NH3"]            // Neutral losses or chemical modifications to search for

Example datasets

Dataset Author Config file
Brain02_Bregma1-42_02 Régis Lavigne,
University of Rennes 1
AZ_Rat_Brains Nicole Strittmatter,
CT26_xenograft Nicole Strittmatter,
Mouse brain test434x902
Captured with AP-SMALDI5
and Q Exactive HF Orbitrap
Dhaka Bhandari,
Justus-Liebig-University Giessen
Captured with AP-SMALDI5
and Q Exactive HF Orbitrap
Dhaka Bhandari,
Justus-Liebig-University Giessen
Microbial interaction slide Don Nguyen,
European Molecular Biology Laboratory

Example databases

These molecular databases can be selected in the ds_config.json files. They are automatically converted to pickle format and uploaded to IBM cloud in the notebooks.

Database Filename Description
HMDB mol_db1.csv Human Metabolome Database
ChEBI mol_db2.csv Chemical Entities of Biological Interest
LIPID MAPS mol_db3.csv
SwissLipids mol_db4.csv
Small database mol_db5.csv This database is used in Experiment 2 as an example of a small set of user-supplied molecules for running small, interactive annotation jobs.
Peptide databases mol_db7.csv
A collection of databases of predicted peptides. These databases were contributed by Benjamin Baluff (M4I, Maastricht University) exclusively for use with METASPACE.



This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 825184.