Comparison of Bioinformatics Pipelines and Operating Systems for the Analyses of 16S rRNA Gene Amplicon Sequences in Human Fecal Samples

Moira Marizzoni, Thomas Gurry, Stefania Provasi, Gilbert Greub, Nicola Lopizzo, Federica Ribaldi, Cristina Festari, Monica Mazzelli, Elisa Mombelli, Marco Salvatore, Peppino Mirabelli, Monica Franzese, Andrea Soricelli, Giovanni B. Frisoni, Annamaria Cattaneo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Amplicon high-throughput sequencing of 16S ribosomal RNA (rRNA) gene is currently the most widely used technique to investigate complex gut microbial communities. Microbial identification might be influenced by several factors, including the choice of bioinformatic pipelines, making comparisons across studies difficult. Here, we compared four commonly used pipelines (QIIME2, Bioconductor, UPARSE and mothur) run on two operating systems (OS) (Linux and Mac), to evaluate the impact of bioinformatic pipeline and OS on the taxonomic classification of 40 human stool samples. We applied the SILVA 132 reference database for all the pipelines. We compared phyla and genera identification and relative abundances across the four pipelines using the Friedman rank sum test. QIIME2 and Bioconductor provided identical outputs on Linux and Mac OS, while UPARSE and mothur reported only minimal differences between OS. Taxa assignments were consistent at both phylum and genus level across all the pipelines. However, a difference in terms of relative abundance was identified for all phyla (p < 0.013) and for the majority of the most abundant genera (p < 0.028), such as Bacteroides (QIIME2: 24.5%, Bioconductor: 24.6%, UPARSE-linux: 23.6%, UPARSE-mac: 20.6%, mothur-linux: 22.2%, mothur-mac: 21.6%, p < 0.001). The use of different bioinformatic pipelines affects the estimation of the relative abundance of gut microbial community, indicating that studies using different pipelines cannot be directly compared. A harmonization procedure is needed to move the field forward.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1262
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Publication statusPublished - Jun 17 2020


  • 16S rRNA amplicon sequencing
  • bioconductor
  • fecal human samples
  • microbiome
  • mothur
  • QIIME2

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Microbiology (medical)


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