Table of Contents

Entrez Direct


Edirect, or Entrez Direct, is a tooltkit to retrieve sequences and other data from the NCBI sequence databases based on given query terms. The pacage consists of several commands:

Navigation functions support exploration within the Entrez databases:

  • esearch performs a new Entrez search using terms in indexed fields.
  • elink looks up neighbors (within a database) or links (between databases).
  • efilter filters or restricts the results of a previous query.

Records can be retrieved in specified formats or as document summaries:

  • efetch downloads records or reports in a designated format.

Desired fields from XML results can be extracted without writing a program:

  • xtract converts EDirect XML output into a table of data values.

Several additional functions are also provided:

  • einfo obtains information on indexed fields in an Entrez database.
  • epost uploads unique identifiers (UIDs) or sequence accession numbers.
  • nquire sends a URL request to a web page or CGI service


The edirect commands listed abowe are activated by loading biokit module.

module load biokit

After that you can e.g. use esearch and efetch to retrieve protein or nucleotide sequence entries, whose annotation matches the given search terms. In search terms, you can also use wildcard character *, to match any string. The search is case-insensitive: Mus and mus will produce the same matches. You can also focus your search to certain fileds of the search database (Keywords, Author, Organism, Accession, Gene name, Protein name, Sequence length etc.). In the case of sequence length, a range should be defined with syntax from:to. For example: 120:125.

Normally it is wise to first use just the esearch command to get an idea how much hits are found. For example search:

esearch -db nucleotide -query barc

will report that 267791 hits were fould.


In this case it might be reasonable to refine the serach, before the search definition is furter piped to efetch command for the actual data retrieval. One search can include several search terms that are combined using logical operators (AND, OR, NOT). The matching sequences can be saved in several formats, for example fasta or Genebank formats are supported. The command below retrieves just one entry, Lyngbya majuscula barbamide biosynthesis gene cluster, that contains gene with name braC.

esearch -db nucleotide -query "barc [GENE] AND Lyngbya majuscula [ORGN]" | efetch -format gb >