Kraken2 and the k-mer approach for taxonomy classification

In the \(k\)-mer approach for taxonomy classification, we use a database containing DNA sequences of genomes whose taxonomy we already know. On a computer, the genome sequences are broken into short pieces of length \(k\) (called \(k\)-mers), usually 30bp.

Kraken examines the \(k\)-mers within the query sequence, searches for them in the database, looks for where these are placed within the taxonomy tree inside the database, makes the classification with the most probable position, then maps \(k\)-mers to the lowest common ancestor (LCA) of all genomes known to contain the given \(k\)-mer.


Kraken2 uses a compact hash table, a probabilistic data structure that allows for faster queries and lower memory requirements. It applies a spaced seed mask of s spaces to the minimizer and calculates a compact hash code, which is then used as a search query in its compact hash table; the lowest common ancestor (LCA) taxon associated with the compact hash code is then assigned to the k-mer.

You can find more information about the Kraken2 algorithm in the paper Improved metagenomic analysis with Kraken 2.

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  1. Wood, D. E., and S. L. Salzberg, 2014 Kraken: ultrafast metagenomic sequence classification using exact alignments. Genome Biology 15: R46. 10.1186/gb-2014-15-3-r46