IDTAXA: a novel approach for accurate taxonomic classification of microbiome sequences

Murali A, Bhargava A, Wright ES. IDTAXA: a novel approach for accurate taxonomic classification of microbiome sequences. Microbiome. 2018 Aug 9;6(1):140. doi: 10.1186/s40168-018-0521-5. PMID: 30092815. PMCID: PMC6085705.


Microbiome studies often involve sequencing a marker gene to identify the microorganisms in samples of interest. Sequence classification is a critical component of this process, whereby sequences are assigned to a reference taxonomy containing known sequence representatives of many microbial groups. Previous studies have shown that existing classification programs often assign sequences to reference groups even if they belong to novel taxonomic groups that are absent from the reference taxonomy. This high rate of “over classification” is particularly detrimental in microbiome studies because reference taxonomies are far from comprehensive.


Here, we introduce IDTAXA, a novel approach to taxonomic classification that employs principles from machine learning to reduce over classification errors. Using multiple reference taxonomies, we demonstrate that IDTAXA has higher accuracy than popular classifiers such as BLAST, MAPSeq, QIIME, SINTAX, SPINGO, and the RDP Classifier. Similarly, IDTAXA yields far fewer over classifications on Illumina mock microbial community data when the expected taxa are absent from the training set. Furthermore, IDTAXA offers many practical advantages over other classifiers, such as maintaining low error rates across varying input sequence lengths and withholding classifications from input sequences composed of random nucleotides or repeats.


IDTAXA’s classifications may lead to different conclusions in microbiome studies because of the substantially reduced number of taxa that are incorrectly identified through over classification. Although misclassification error is relatively minor, we believe that many remaining misclassifications are likely caused by errors in the reference taxonomy. We describe how IDTAXA is able to identify many putative mislabeling errors in reference taxonomies, enabling training sets to be automatically corrected by eliminating spurious sequences. IDTAXA is part of the DECIPHER package for the R programming language, available through the Bioconductor repository or accessible online (

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Murali A, Bhargava A, Wright ES