Extracting Specific Fasta record/s from a Multi-fasta File

While dealing with multi-fasta files, it is often required to extract few fasta sequences which contain the keyword/s of interest. One fast way to do this, is by awk.

For example:

Input file: hg19_genome.fa


We would like to extract the sequence for Chr2 from hg19_genome.fa. Use the following command:

$ awk ‘BEGIN {RS=”>”} /Chr2/ {print “>”$0}’ hg19_genome.fa



Note that, the search keyword (here ‘Chr2’) doesn’t have to be an exact match. If you use ‘MT‘ instead, you will get the third and fourth entry, since ‘MT’ is a sub-string of the third and fourth fasta record.

Now lets break down the command so that we don’t have to mug it up or we could mold it and use it in variety of other places.

  • awk — This is the main command (Or more of a very powerful programming language)
  • — We write every bit of awk code inside these single quotes
  • BEGIN — This tells the awk to execute the immediately following code in curly brackets at the beginning.
  • {RS=”>”} — Record separator  (If we look at the file, we can observe every sequence starts with a “>” sign. This helps us to separate two fasta records)
  • /Chr2/ — keyword to search in the entire record
  • {print “>”$0} — Here $0 is the current record (From “Chr2” to the entire sequence till next “>”). We added “>” at the beginning just to get the standard identitifer which is not included in $0.
  • hg19_genome.fa — This is the input multi-fasta file that we have used.

Suppose we are interested in more that one keyword then two possibilities arise:

You want BOTH the keywords present,
awk ‘BEGIN {RS=”>”} /Chr2/ && /MT/ {print “>”$0}’ hg19_genome.fa

You want EITHER of the keyword present,
awk ‘BEGIN {RS=”>”} /Chr2|MT/ {print “>”$0}’ hg19_genome.fa

Note: If you are using Windows, you can download and install ‘gwak’ and use similar command. In zsh shell you might need to use an escape character for | (pipe).

I am sure many of you might have different flavors to do the same. If you think it is worth sharing then the comment box is all yours.

Happy Coding !!