Submitting Taxonomic Reference Sets


The Taxonomic Reference Set analysis class is intended as a stable means of systematically capturing datasets from established reference databases in a standard format. It is then possible to convey them to dependent resources for use in taxonomic assignment of metabarcoding sequences.

The format has three components:

  • Metadata Record: Some general information about the dataset as a whole

  • Sequence Record: A multi-FASTA containing the sequence to be archived, along with identifiers

  • Sequence Metadata Table: A TSV file containing information about the origins of the sequences, matched by identifiers

The three components together comprise a Taxonomic Reference Set. The format of each item is described in detail below.

Before you can submit a Taxonomic Reference Set, you must register a study.

This analysis class can only be submitted through our Webin-CLI tool.

This page will describe each of the three components of a taxonomic reference set, and then provide instruction on how to submit this analysis type.

Submission Content

Metadata Record

All Webin-CLI submissions require a metadata record in the form of a manifest file. This describes the dataset as a whole, not the individual sequences.

The following fields are used for Taxonomic Reference Set Submission:

  • Name (MANDATORY) - A short descriptive name for your dataset

  • Study (MANDATORY) - A valid INSDC Study accession

  • Description (MANDATORY) - A description of the dataset

  • Taxonomy System (MANDATORY) - The database or authority defining the taxon names used in your metadata table. ‘NCBI’ or ‘NCBI Taxonomy’ is preferred

  • Taxonomy System Version (OPTIONAL) - The version of the taxonomy system defined above, if applicable

  • FASTA (MANDATORY) - The gzipped FASTA file containing your sequence records

  • TAB (MANDATORY) - The gzipped TSV file containing your sequence metadata

  • CUSTOMFIELD (OPTIONAL) - Custom headers you may have included in your sequence metadata table

It should be clear from the name and description what the theme of you dataset is (e.g. ITS1 sequences, 16S sequences, a specific clade). The name must always be unique among submissions from your account.

The taxonomy system field should specify which authority your taxon names and lineages conform to. Values ‘NCBI’ or ‘NCBI Taxonomy’ are preferred and are mandatory if you intend to include NCBI taxon IDs. However, any database may be specified here. You can clarify a version/release number with the taxonomy system version if you wish.

You may include custom field rows in the metadata record. These define and describe additional headers used in your sequence metadata table. Additional table headers and custom field entries must exactly match each other. Separate the header and description with a colon (e.g. Name1:Description1).

An example manifest follows:

NAME 16S Database Sequences
DESCRIPTION Set of reference 16S sequences as collected by 16S Database
FASTA 16s_db_seqs.fasta.gz
TAB 16s_db_info.tsv.gz
CUSTOMFIELD header_name:description of column purpose

Download a blank manifest for your use here: tax_ref_set_example_manifest.txt

Sequence Record

The sequence data component of the submission, this is a multi-FASTA file containing marker sequences, such as ITS1 or 16S. It should have been made clear in the metadata record what to expect here.

The ID lines must begin with a sequence identifier unique to each record and matching an identifier in the sequence metadata table. It is acceptable to use an INSDC accession here. If you wish to include further details about the sequence here, separate them from the identifier with a ‘|’ character:

>ITS1DB00588027|162468|Steinernema abbasi|ITS1 located by ENA annotation, 267bp

Any valid nucleotide character is accepted, blank lines will not be accepted. Sequence lines must conform to the regular expression:


The ID and sequence must each occupy a single line. An odd number of lines in a FASTA file is considered an error.

Sequence Metadata Table

This is a TSV-format file containing metadata for each individual sequence. Six mandatory columns are defined. All six must always be present, but some may contain null values:

  • local_identifier (NOT NULL) - Must exactly match an identifier in the FASTA

  • insdc_sequence_accession (null allowed) - Must be a valid INSDC sequence accession

  • insdc_sequence_range (null if INSDC accession is) - Must be a valid INSDC location string (e.g. “<21..<235”, regex: “^<?d+..>?d+$” )

  • local_organism_name (NOT NULL) - Binomial name of the species the sequence identifies

  • local_lineage (null allowed) - Full lineage of the species named in the local_organism_name column

  • ncbi_tax_id - (conditional) NCBI Tax Id is mandatory if using NCBI Taxonomy, disallowed if not

The INSDC sequence range is optional, but must be null if the the INSDC sequence accession is null.

If NCBI taxonomy is specified as the taxonomic system, you must provide NCBI tax ID for every entry. Otherwise, this column must always be null. If Tax IDs are included, they must match the organism name.

In addition to the mandatory headers, you may have chosen to define additional headers in the metadata record. If so, they must be included in this table.

Download a blank table for your use here: tax_ref_set_example_table.tsv

Submitting The Files

The files must be submitted using Webin-CLI. For an introduction to this tool please click here.

Webin-CLI includes -test and -validate options. -validate may be used to have the Webin-CLI validator run check your files without submitting. -test may be used to make your submission to our test server, which is wiped clean every day at 03.00 GMT/BST.

Note that a newly submitted study cannot be referenced on the test server until 24 hours after its submission. You are advised to use these prior to submission to help identify problems with the files.

Webin-CLI requires the following options from you:

  • Your Webin username, resembling ‘Webin-xxxxx’: -username

  • Your Webin password: -password

  • The type of submission, ‘taxrefset’ in this case: -context

  • Name and path to your metadata record file: -manifest

  • Instruction, either -validate or -submit

  • Optionally, you may use -test to submit to the test server

Webin-CLI has other optional arguments, the above are the mandatory/most relevant ones.

An example command may resemble:

webin-cli -username Webin-99999 -password xxxxxx -context taxrefset -manifest trs_submission.txt -validate

When ready, switch -validate for -submit