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Bioinformatics. 2015 Aug 1;31(15):2461-8. doi: 10.1093/bioinformatics/btv183. Epub 2015 Mar 29.

Power and sample-size estimation for microbiome studies using pairwise distances and PERMANOVA.

Author information

Department of Medicine.
Department of Microbiology and.
Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.



The variation in community composition between microbiome samples, termed beta diversity, can be measured by pairwise distance based on either presence-absence or quantitative species abundance data. PERMANOVA, a permutation-based extension of multivariate analysis of variance to a matrix of pairwise distances, partitions within-group and between-group distances to permit assessment of the effect of an exposure or intervention (grouping factor) upon the sampled microbiome. Within-group distance and exposure/intervention effect size must be accurately modeled to estimate statistical power for a microbiome study that will be analyzed with pairwise distances and PERMANOVA.


We present a framework for PERMANOVA power estimation tailored to marker-gene microbiome studies that will be analyzed by pairwise distances, which includes: (i) a novel method for distance matrix simulation that permits modeling of within-group pairwise distances according to pre-specified population parameters; (ii) a method to incorporate effects of different sizes within the simulated distance matrix; (iii) a simulation-based method for estimating PERMANOVA power from simulated distance matrices; and (iv) an R statistical software package that implements the above. Matrices of pairwise distances can be efficiently simulated to satisfy the triangle inequality and incorporate group-level effects, which are quantified by the adjusted coefficient of determination, omega-squared (ω2). From simulated distance matrices, available PERMANOVA power or necessary sample size can be estimated for a planned microbiome study.

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