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TIPP stands for Taxonomic identification and phylogenetic profiling, and so is a method for the following problems:

Taxonomic identification:

  • Input: A query sequence q
  • Output: The taxonomic lineage of q.

Abundance profiling:

  • Input: A set of query sequences Q
  • Output: An abundance profile estimated on Q

TIPP is a modification of SEPP for classifying query sequences using phylogenetic placement. TIPP inserts the query sequences into a taxonomic tree and uses the insertion location to identify the reads. The novel idea behind TIPP is that rather than using the single best alignment and placement for taxonomic identification, we use a collection of alignments and placements and consider statistical support for each alignment and placement. Our study shows that TIPP provides improved classification accuracy on novel sequences and on sequences with evolutionarily divergent datasets. TIPP can also be used for abundance estimation by computing an abundance profile on the reads binned to the 30 gene reference dataset.

Developers: Nam Nguyen, Siavash Mirarab, and Tandy Warnow.

###Publication: Nguyen, Nam , Siavash Mirarab, Bo Liu, Mihai Pop, and Tandy Warnow. TIPP: Taxonomic identification and phylogenetic profiling. Bioinformatics (2014). doi:10.1093/bioinformatics/btu721.

Note and Acknowledgment:


You have two options for installing TIPP.

  • Windows: If you have a Windows machine, currently using the Virtual Machine (VM) image we provide is your only option.
  • Linux: and MAC: If you have Linux (or other *nix systems) or MAC, you can still use VM, but downloading the code from github and installing it is what we strongly recommend.

1. From Source Code

Current version of TIPP has been developed and tested entirely on Linux and MAC. Windows won't work currently (future versions may or may not support Windows).

You need to have:

  • Python (version 2.7 or later, including version python 3)
  • Blast (version 2.2.2 or later)
  • Java (version > 1.5 or later)

Step 1: Install SEPP

TIPP is a part of the SEPP distribution package. First download and install SEPP:

  1. Open a terminal and create a directory where you want to keep SEPP. e.g. mkdir ~/sepp-code. Go to this directory. e.g. cd ~/sepp-code.

  2. Clone the SEPP code repository from our github repository. For example you can use git clone If you don't have git, you can directly download a zip file from the repository and decompress it into your desired directory.

  3. cd sepp (or cd sepp-master if you used the zip file instead of cloning the git repository)

  4. Run the following command from the SEPP directory:

    python config

    or alternatively,

    python config -c

    The first command puts all the config files under your home directory while the second version uses the current path.

  5. Then run:

    sudo python install

    If you don't have root access, remove the sudo part and instead use --user option. Alternativley, you can --prefix to install in a different location, but that different location needs to be part of your PYTHONPATH environmental variable.

Step 2: Install TIPP

  1. Download the reference dataset available at

  2. Unzip it to a directory

  3. Set the environment variable REFERENCE to point to the location of the reference directory. This can be performed using:

  4. Set the environment variable BLAST to point to blastn. This can be performed using:

     export BLAST=/PATH/TO/DIRECTORY/blastn
  5. Run the following command from the SEPP directory:

    python tipp 


    python tipp -c

Note: It's important tat you use either use -c for both SEPP and TIPP or don't use it for both.

Common Problems:

  1. TIPP requires SEPP to be installed. If TIPP is not running, first check to see if TIPP was installed correctly.

  2. TIPP relies on blastn for the binning of metagenomic reads. This needs to be installed separately. To point BLAST to your installation of blastn, modify ~/.sepp/tipp.config. You can download blast here You can also download the linux version of blastn from our repository.

  3. TIPP performs abundance profiling uses a set of 30 marker genes. This needs to be downloaded separately. Download the reference dataset and unzip it to a directory. Point the REFERENCE environment variable to this directory before installing TIPP. You can manually point TIPP to the reference directory by modifying the ~/.sepp/tipp.config file. reference datasets:

Finally, if the BLAST environmental variable or the REFERENCE environmental variable cannot be read by TIPP during the configuration, you can manually edit the ~/.sepp/tipp.config file to point to the right location. To do this, change:




2. From Virtual Machine (VM)

VM Image (mostly for Windows users) is available for download (3 GB). Once the image is downloaded, you need to run it using a VM environment (VirtualBox is a good option). After you install VirtualBox, you just need to use File/import to import the downloaded phylo.ova image that you have downloaded (If your machine has less than 3GB you might want to reduce the memory to something like 512MB). Once VM is imported, you can start it from the Virtualbox. If you are asked to login, the username and passwords are (username: phylolab, password: phylolab). TIPP is installed on the VM machine, so you can simply proceed by opening a terminal and running it.

Note that we constantly update our software. Before running the tutorial, it's best to grab the most updated version of the software onto the VM machine.
This can be done by opening a terminal in the VM and typing the following commands:

cd ~/tools/sepp
git pull

Using TIPP

If your installation is successful, you should be able to run TIPP by running the following command from any location. Open up a terminal window and type: -h

Running TIPP with the -h option produces the list of options available in TIPP.

The general command for running TIPP for a specific pre-computed marker is: -R reference_marker -f fragment_file

Step 1: Running a test job

TIPP currently can only be run from the command line. We have provided some test data files under the test/ directory. A good start is classifying reads from the pyrg gene, a smaller marker gene with only 65 sequences. -R pyrg -f test/unittest/data/mock/pyrg/pyrg.even.fas  -o output -P 30

This will run TIPP on the fragmentary sequences that have been binned to the pyrg gene. This will use the pre-computed alignment and tree that has been estimated on the known bacterial pyrg genes.

The main output of TIPP is a output_classification.txt file that contains the classification of each read. The classification consists of the name of the read, the NCBI taxonomic id of the classification,the rank of the classification, the name of the classification, and the support of the classification.

EAS25_26_1_15_381_1761_0_1,2173,Methanobrevibacter smithii,species,1.0000

For example, the EAS25_26_1_15_381_1761_0_1 is classified as the species Methanobrevibacter smithii with 100% support. By default, TIPP requires 95% placement support to classify a sequence. If we lower the classification threshold, we can see all possible classifications for a sequence. -R pyrg -f test/unittest/data/mock/pyrg/pyrg.even.fas -o lower_threshold -P 30 -pt 0.0

In addition, TIPP outputs a .json file with the placements, created according to pplacer format. Please refer to pplacer website (currently for more information on the format of the josn file. Also note that pplacer package provides a program called guppy that can read .json files and perform downstream steps such as visualization.

In addition to the .json file, TIPP outputs alignments of fragments to reference sets. There could be multiple alignment files created, each corresponding to a different placement subset.

Step 2: Converting the result into an abundance profile

The classification file lists all possible classifications for a fragment, even if it has very low support. In some situations, we only want the most highly supported classifications. We can use a helper tool to convert the classification file into a profile.

mkdir profile -g pyrg -a profile -o profile -p pyrg -i output_classification.txt -t 0.95

This command will create taxonomic profiles (one for each taxonomic ranking) from the classification results. Fragments will only be classified if they have at least 95% support for the classification. Let's start by looking at the file labelled pyrg.classification

fragment        species genus   family  order   class   phylum
EAS25_26_1_100_940_776_0_1      2173    2172    2159    2158    183925  28890
EAS25_26_1_11_733_1260_0_2      2173    2172    2159    2158    183925  28890
EAS25_26_1_15_381_1761_0_1      2173    2172    2159    2158    183925  28890
EAS25_26_1_15_381_1761_0_2      NA      NA      2206    94695   224756  28890

This file lists the classification (shown as NCBI taxonomic ids) of each fragment at each of the taxonomic rankings. If a fragment does not meet the support threshold (95% in this case), it will be left as unclassified (NA).

Let's look at abundance.species.csv. The file shows the abundance profiles for the species level. The file shows that 80% of the reads belong to the species Methanobrevibacter smithii and 19% of the fragments were unclassified at the species level.

taxa    abundance
Methanobrevibacter smithii      0.7969
Methanococcus maripaludis       0.0156
unclassified    0.1875

Step 3: Running TIPP for profiling:

The previous example shows how to analyze a dataset when the fragments come from a specific gene. When analyzing shotgun metagenomic reads, however, the reads originate from all across the genome. Thus, we need to take a different approach for analyzing such a dataset.

TIPP comes with a collection of 30 single copy housekeeping genes which are used for abundance profiling of metagenomic reads. The pipeline to analyze a metagenomic dataset is to first bin the reads to each of the marker genes, and then run TIPP individual on each of the individual marker genes. We have simplified this process with a helper script

The general command for is: -f fragment_file -c ~/.sepp/tipp.config -d output_directory

The output will be tab delimited files that estimate the abundance at a given taxonomic level. For example, go to the test/unittest/data/mock/mixed directory and run -f facs_simhc.short.fas -c ~/.sepp/tipp.config -d out

Note: If you used the -c option when installing TIPP and SEPP, then instead of ~/.sepp/tipp.config you would use [path_to_your_SEPP_installation]/.sepp/tipp.config

Running this command:

  1. Assigns the fragments to the marker genes using BLAST.
  2. Once the sequences have been assigned to the marker genes, the direction of the sequences will be estimated by aligning the forward and reverse complemented sequences against the HMM. The orientation with the best HMM score is selected.
  3. Finally, TIPP is run on the sequence to classify it.

The markers directory contains the individual results for each marker.

Below is an example of the abundance.species.csv output from the run.

taxa    abundance
Actinomyces sp. oral taxon 848  0.0064
Agrobacterium tumefaciens       0.0382
Alcanivorax borkumensis 0.0382
Alcanivorax sp. DG881   0.0064
Anabaena variabilis     0.0446
Archaeoglobus fulgidus  0.0446
Bacillus cereus 0.0064
Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus      0.0255
Bifidobacterium bifidum 0.0064
Burkholderia cenocepacia        0.0064
Campylobacter jejuni    0.0892
Candidatus Blochmannia floridanus       0.0446
Candidatus Phytoplasma australiense     0.0064
Clostridium acetobutylicum      0.0446
Clostridium botulinum   0.0064
Desulfuromonas acetoxidans      0.0064
Escherichia coli        0.0382
Flavobacterium psychrophilum    0.0064
Francisella tularensis  0.0318
Fulvimarina pelagi      0.0064
Lactococcus lactis      0.0255
Marvinbryantia formatexigens    0.0064
Methanocaldococcus fervens      0.0064
Methanoculleus marisnigri       0.0191
Nitrosomonas europaea   0.0382
Pasteurella multocida   0.0637
Polynucleobacter necessarius    0.0064
Pseudomonas aeruginosa  0.0382
Pseudomonas entomophila 0.0446
Pseudomonas fluorescens 0.0764
Pseudomonas putida      0.0064
Rickettsiella grylli    0.0064
Roseobacter denitrificans       0.0064
Streptococcus pneumoniae        0.0064
Streptomyces coelicolor 0.0446
Streptomyces ghanaensis 0.0064
Streptomyces griseoflavus       0.0064
Streptomyces lividans   0.0064
Streptomyces scabiei    0.0127
Sulfolobus tokodaii     0.0382
Xanthomonas oryzae      0.0064
Yersinia pestis 0.0064
unclassified    0.0191

This profile estimates that Pseudomonas fluorescens make up 7.6% of the species abundance, and 1.9% of the fragments could not be classified even though they are classified at other levels.

Step 4: Looking a reference dataset:

Let's take a look at the files within a reference dataset, starting with the taxonomy file. Go to the 16S_bacteria.refpkg directory (can be found in the archive)

head -n2 all_taxon.taxonomy

This file represents a taxonomy as a comma delimited file. The first line is the header that describes each column. The important files are the unique id of each clade, the clade name, rank, and the parent of the clade.

Next is the backbone alignment and tree files (sate.fasta and sate.taxonomy). These are the full-length sequences from the known organisms. The sequences in this file are mapped to the taxonomy through the species.mapping file shown below.


Each sequence name is mapped to the unique id in the taxonomy file.

Finally, in order to find the best placement, we need the model parameters of the taxonomic tree. This can be generated by RAxML using the -f e or the -g option.

Thus, specialized marker datasets can be generated for any organisms, not just bacteria, by providing these files.

Step 5: 16S amplicon analysis:

Finally, we have included a 16S reference marker gene that can be used to analyze 16S amplicon data. Below is an example of running TIPP on 16S amplicon data. -R 16S_bacteria -f test/unittest/data/mock/16s_bacteria/human_gut_16S.fas -o 16s -A 1000 -P 1000

As in the previous example, you can convert the classification results into a more easily digestible format using the script: -g 16_bacteria -a profile -o -p 16_bacteria -i 16s_classification.txt -t 0.95


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