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JOURNAL ARTICLE

Functional Profiling of Unfamiliar Microbial Communities Using a Validated De Novo Assembly Metatranscriptome Pipeline

Mark Davids, Floor Hugenholtz, Vitor Martins dos Santos, Hauke Smidt, Michiel Kleerebezem, Peter J Schaap
PloS One 2016, 11 (1): e0146423
26756338

BACKGROUND: Metatranscriptomic landscapes can provide insights in functional relationships within natural microbial communities. Analysis of complex metatranscriptome datasets of these communities poses a considerable bioinformatic challenge since they are non-restricted with a varying number of participating strains and species. For RNA-Seq data a standard approach is to align the generated reads to a set of closely related reference genomes. This only works well for microbial communities for which a near complete catalogue of reference genomes is available at a small evolutionary distance. In this study, we focus on the design of a validated de novo metatranscriptome assembly pipeline for single-end Illumina RNA-Seq data to obtain functional and taxonomic profiles of murine microbial communities.

RESULTS: The here developed de novo assembly metatranscriptome pipeline combined rRNA removal, IDBA-UD assembler, functional annotation and taxonomic classification. Different assemblers were tested and validated using RNA-Seq data from an in silico generated mock community and in vivo RNA-Seq data from a restricted microbial community taken from a mouse model colonized with Altered Schaedler Flora (ASF). Precision and recall of resulting gene expression, functional and taxonomic profiles were compared to those obtained with a standard alignment method. The validated pipeline was subsequently used to generate expression profiles from non-restricted cecal communities of four C57BL/6J mice fed on a high-fat high-protein diet spiked with an RNA-Seq data set from a well-characterized human sample. The spike in control was used to estimate precision and recall at assembly, functional and taxonomic level of non-restricted communities.

CONCLUSIONS: A generic de novo assembly pipeline for metatranscriptome data analysis was designed for microbial ecosystems, which can be applied for microbial metatranscriptome analysis in any chosen niche.

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