SPAdes Tutorial

Overview of SPAdes

SPAdes, which stands for St. Petersburg genome assembler, is a versatile bioinformatics tool designed for assembling genomes from next-generation sequencing data. It is particularly well-suited for single-cell and multi-cell bacterial datasets, although it may not be the best choice for very large genomes. SPAdes can handle data from various sequencing technologies, including Ion Torrent, PacBio, Oxford Nanopore, and Illumina paired-end, mate-pairs, and single reads. This flexibility makes it a popular choice in the bioinformatics community.

The tool has been integrated into Galaxy pipelines, which are platforms that allow users to perform complex bioinformatics analyses through a user-friendly interface. This integration has made SPAdes accessible to a broader range of researchers, including those who may not be comfortable working directly with command-line tools.

The SPAdes Assembly Approach

SPAdes employs a sophisticated algorithm that uses k-mers to construct an initial de Bruijn graph. The assembly process involves several stages:

  1. Assembly Graph Construction: SPAdes uses a multisized de Bruijn graph to detect and remove errors such as bulge/bubble structures and chimeric reads.
  2. K-bimer Adjustment: The tool estimates exact distances between k-mers in the genome, which correspond to edges in the assembly graph.
  3. Paired Assembly Graph Construction: This stage involves constructing a graph that incorporates paired-end information.
  4. Contig Construction: Finally, SPAdes outputs contigs and allows for the mapping of reads back to their positions in the assembly graph after simplification, a process known as backtracking.

One of the key challenges in single-cell sequencing is non-uniform coverage. SPAdes addresses this by using a multisized de Bruijn graph, which allows for different k-mer sizes to be used in different regions of the genome. Smaller k-mer sizes are used in low-coverage areas to minimize fragmentation, while larger k-mer sizes are used in high-coverage areas to reduce the collapsing of repeats.


Before we can dive into using SPAdes, it needs to be installed on your system. SPAdes is compatible with Linux and Mac OS, and it is freely available for use. The source code and binary distributions can be found on the official SPAdes GitHub repository. Installation instructions are typically provided with the distribution, and users should follow these closely to ensure a successful setup.

Quick Start

Once SPAdes is installed, you can begin assembling genomes. A typical command to start an assembly might look like this: -1 <forward_reads.fq> -2 <reverse_reads.fq> -s <single_reads.fq> -o <output_dir>

This command specifies the forward and reverse paired-end reads, any single reads, and the output directory where the results will be stored.

Code Examples Of Popular Commands

Here are five popular commands that you might use with SPAdes:

  1. Assembling Paired-End Reads: -1 pe_1.fq -2 pe_2.fq -o spades_output

    This command will assemble a genome from paired-end reads.

  2. Single-Cell Assembly: --sc -1 sc_pe_1.fq -2 sc_pe_2.fq -o sc_spades_output

    Use the --sc flag for single-cell data.

  3. Metagenomic Assembly: --meta -1 meta_pe_1.fq -2 meta_pe_2.fq -o meta_spades_output

    The --meta flag is used for metagenomic datasets.

  4. Hybrid Assembly with Illumina and Nanopore Reads: --nanopore nanopore_reads.fq -1 ill_pe_1.fq -2 ill_pe_2.fq -o hybrid_spades_output

    This command combines Illumina and Nanopore reads for a hybrid assembly.

  5. RNA-seq Assembly: --rna -s rna_reads.fq -o rna_spades_output

    The --rna flag indicates that the input is RNA-seq data.

Remember, these commands are just starting points. SPAdes offers a wide range of options and parameters that can be adjusted to optimize the assembly process for specific datasets and research needs.

In conclusion, SPAdes is a powerful and flexible genome assembly tool that has become an essential part of the bioinformatics toolkit. Whether you're working with bacterial genomes, metagenomic samples, or single-cell data, SPAdes provides the functionality needed to assemble high-quality genomes from next-generation sequencing data.