Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Metabarcoding and Metagenomics journal

Not too long ago I posted a call for participation at a questionnaire which solicited feedback and suggestions for a new open access journal focusing on metabarcoding and metagenomics. Today, just a few months later the journal out in the open and ready for submission:

Metabarcoding and Metagenomics (MBMG) is an innovative open access journal which facilitates the publication of articles on metabarcoding and metagenomics both in basic and applied context. The journal welcomes submissions representing all stages of the research cycle: data, models, methods, workflows, software, perspectives, opinions, and conventional research articles. The journal will consider manuscripts for publication related (but not limited) to the following topics: Environmental MBMG, Microbial MBMG, Applied MBMG (biomonitoring, quarantine, environmental assessment, nature conservation, eDNA, species invasions and others), and other emerging fields related to MBMG. Submissions of bioinformatic approaches to MBMG (algorithms, software) are also encouraged.

So, if you are currently working on a metabarcoding or metagenomics study and looking for a home for your publication you might want to consider this new option.

Thursday, April 13, 2017


7th International Barcode of Life Conference, 20 – 24 November 2017 at Kruger National Park


The African Centre for DNA Barcoding (ACDB), the University of  Johannesburg (UJ), International Barcode of Life Project (iBOL), and the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) are proud to announce and welcome delegates to our hosting of the 7th International Barcode of Life Conference, 20 – 24 November 2017. This is the first time that this event will be held on the African continent. The venue for the hosting of this prestigious event will be the Nombolo Mdhluli Conference Centre, 

The major theme of the conference is exploring mega-diverse biotas with DNA barcodes. A series of presentations and workshops will focus on the use of DNA to understand diversity patterns and ecological processes in species-rich and complicated ecosystems. The conference also provides a 
general forum for presentations, posters, and discussion on the wider field of DNA barcoding.

Delegates are encouraged to register as soon as possible as space is limited.

Abstracts should be submitted here before or on 28th April 2017.

More information at:

Website: http://dnabarcodes2017.org
Facebook: @DNABarcodes2017
Twitter: @DNABarcodes

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Wednesday reads

Two days delay and a lot to go through but I think I came up with a list of quite interesting reads:

Phlebotomine sand flies are haematophagous dipterans of primary medical importance. They represent the only proven vectors of leishmaniasis worldwide and are involved in the transmission of various other pathogens. Studying the ecology of sand flies is crucial to understand the epidemiology of leishmaniasis and further control this disease. A major limitation in this regard is that traditional morphological-based methods for sand fly species identifications are time-consuming and require taxonomic expertise. DNA metabarcoding holds great promise in overcoming this issue by allowing the identification of multiple species from a single bulk sample. Here, we assessed the reliability of a short insect metabarcode located in the mitochondrial 16S rRNA for the identification of Neotropical sand flies, and constructed a reference database for 40 species found in French Guiana. Then, we conducted a metabarcoding experiment on sand flies mixtures of known content and showed that the method allows an accurate identification of specimens in pools. Finally, we applied metabarcoding to field samples caught in a 1-ha forest plot in French Guiana. Besides providing reliable molecular data for species-level assignations of phlebotomine sand flies, our study proves the efficiency of metabarcoding based on the mitochondrial 16S rRNA for studying sand fly diversity from bulk samples. The application of this high-throughput identification procedure to field samples can provide great opportunities for vector monitoring and eco-epidemiological studies.

Translating the vast amounts of molecular barcodes from global surveys of microbial eukaryotes into ecological insight depends critically on a well-curated reference database with adequate taxonomic coverage. In this respect, the choanoflagellates resemble other eukaryotic lineages: reasonable coverage at higher taxonomic levels, but missing diversity at the species level. The acanthoecid (loricate) choanoflagellates are well-characterized morphologically, with over 115 species described, but less than 10% with any sequence data. Because lorica shape is species-specific, the acanthoecids represent an opportunity to link morphological with molecular data within a lineage of eukaryotes. To match morphospecies to sequences, we sampled the Kattegat and the Isefjord in Denmark in September 2014 and February 2015. We identified 45 morphospecies and sequenced ribosomal DNA of nine previously unsequenced species, roughly doubling the number of acanthoecid species with sequence data, including the first data representing five genera: Bicosta, Calliacantha, Cosmoeca, Crinolina and Pleurasiga. Our phylogenetic analysis is mainly congruent with morphology-based systematics. Five of the newly sequenced species match a previously unidentified barcode from Tara Oceans, providing access to the global distribution of species isolated from Danish waters. One species, Calliacantha natans, is the second most globally abundant choanoflagellate present in Tara Oceans. Our project translating new ribosomal DNA sequences to distributions of described species on a global scale supports the approach linking morphology to molecular barcodes for microbial eukaryote ecology.

Almost all plants in nature harbour fungi in their roots but the knowledge on distribution and the underlying principles of assemblage is still poorly developed for the root-associated fungi. In this study we analysed the root endophytic fungal communities associated with switchgrass, rosette grass, and pitch pine in the acidic, oligotrophic pine barrens ecosystem. A total of 434 fungal isolates were obtained from 600 root segments of 60 plant samples. DNA barcoding and morphological analyses identified 92 fungal species, which belong to 39 genera in six classes. Compared to other ecosystems, the pine barrens has a higher proportion of Leotiomycetes. The fungal community associated with pitch pine was significantly different from those associated with the grasses, while less difference was found between those associated with the two grasses. Our results suggest that edaphic factors and host specificity play a role in shaping root endophytic fungal community. This study also corroborates our previous finding that plant roots in the pine barrens are a rich reservoir of novel fungi.

The introduction of exotic species can have serious consequences for marine ecosystems. On the shores of the Cantabrian Sea (North of Spain) there are no routine examinations of seaweeds that combine molecular and morphological methods for early detection of exotic species making it difficult to assess in the early stages their establishment and expansion processes as a result of anthropogenic activities (e.g., shipping and/or aquaculture).
In this work we used both morphological identification and molecular barcoding (COI-5P and rbcL genes) of red algae collected in Asturias, Bay of Biscay (Gijón and Candás harbours) and from the University of Oviedo's herbarium samples.
The results confirmed the presence of exotic Asian seaweeds Pachymeniopsis gargiuli and Grateloupia turuturu Yamada on Cantabrian Sea shores. Several individuals of these species were fertile and developing cystocarps when collected, underlining the risk of possible expansion or continued establishment. This study constitutes the first report of the Asian P. gargiuli in this area of the Bay of Biscay.
Here the presence of the exotic species of the Halymeniales P. gargiuli is confirmed. We hypothesize that this species may have been established some time ago as a cryptic introduction with G. turuturu in Galician shores. The detection of these species on the shores of the Cantabrian Sea is relevant since introductions of Pachymeniopsis species could have been overlooked on other European coasts, probably mixed with G. turuturu and P. lanceolata. Our results confirm one new alien seaweed species that has been detected using molecular methods (COI-5P region and rbcL genes barcoding) on North Atlantic shores: the Asian native P. gargiuli. This demonstrates that routine screening for early detection of exotic algae in the Cantabrian Sea can be used for risk assessment. Genetic barcoding should be done using both rbcL gene and COI-5P regions since, although COI-databases are still poorer in sequences and this inhibits successful outcomes in Grateloupia-related species identifications, it is nonetheless a useful marker for species-level identifications in seaweeds.

The difficulty of censusing marine animal populations hampers effective ocean management. Analyzing water for DNA traces shed by organisms may aid assessment. Here we tested aquatic environmental DNA (eDNA) as an indicator of fish presence in the lower Hudson River estuary. A checklist of local marine fish and their relative abundance was prepared by compiling 12 traditional surveys conducted between 1988–2015. To improve eDNA identification success, 31 specimens representing 18 marine fish species were sequenced for two mitochondrial gene regions, boosting coverage of the 12S eDNA target sequence to 80% of local taxa. We collected 76 one-liter shoreline surface water samples at two contrasting estuary locations over six months beginning in January 2016. eDNA was amplified with vertebrate-specific 12S primers. Bioinformatic analysis of amplified DNA, using a reference library of GenBank and our newly generated 12S sequences, detected most (81%) locally abundant or common species and relatively few (23%) uncommon taxa, and corresponded to seasonal presence and habitat preference as determined by traditional surveys. Approximately 2% of fish reads were commonly consumed species that are rare or absent in local waters, consistent with wastewater input. Freshwater species were rarely detected despite Hudson River inflow. These results support further exploration and suggest eDNA will facilitate fine-scale geographic and temporal mapping of marine fish populations at relatively low cost.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Student Travel Bursaries for African and South African Students

Happy to pass on some important conference related information:

Dear Delegates, 

We are pleased to announce that there are Travel Bursaries available for African and South African students to attend the upcoming 7th International Barcode of Life Conference in November 2017.

To apply and for more information, please go to to this link.

We encourage all African students to apply - please note the application deadline is 01 May 2017.

Good luck!

With best wishes, 

7th iBOL Local Organizing Committee

Monday, April 3, 2017

Monday reads

Happy April! Another week of light posting passed and I am afraid there will be one more of the same. A number of things got in the way despite the fact that there is no shortage of things to blog about. In short - I am too busy. Here is hope that this will change in the near future. And now to this weeks selection:

DNA-barcoding is a rapidly developing method for efficiently identifying samples to species level by means of short standard DNA sequences. However, reliable species assignment requires the availability of a comprehensive DNA barcode reference library, and hence numerous initiatives aim at generating such barcode databases for particular taxa or geographic regions. Historical museum collections represent a potentially invaluable source for the DNA-barcoding of many taxa. This is particularly true for birds and mammals, for which collecting fresh (voucher) material is often very difficult to (nearly) impossible due to the special animal welfare and conservation regulations that apply to vertebrates in general, and birds and mammals in particular. Moreover, even great efforts might not guarantee sufficiently complete sampling of fresh material in a short period of time. DNA extracted from historical samples is usually degraded, such that only short fragments can be amplified, rendering the recovery of the barcoding region as a single fragment impossible. Here, we present a new set of primers that allows the efficient amplification and sequencing of the entire barcoding region in most higher taxa of Central European birds and mammals in six overlapping fragments, thus greatly increasing the value of historical museum collections for generating DNA barcode reference libraries. Applying our new primer set in recently established NGS protocols promises to further increase the efficiency of barcoding old bird and mammal specimens.

We foresee a new global-scale, ecological approach to biomonitoring emerging within the next decade that can detect ecosystem change accurately, cheaply, and generically. Next-generation sequencing of DNA sampled from the Earth’s environments would provide data for the relative abundance of operational taxonomic units or ecological functions. Machine-learning methods would then be used to reconstruct the ecological networks of interactions implicit in the raw NGS data. Ultimately, we envision the development of autonomous samplers that would sample nucleic acids and upload NGS sequence data to the cloud for network reconstruction. Large numbers of these samplers, in a global array, would allow sensitive automated biomonitoring of the Earth’s major ecosystems at high spatial and temporal resolution, revolutionising our understanding of ecosystem change.

Anthropogenic activities are having devastating impacts on marine systems with numerous knock-on effects on trophic functioning, species interactions and an accelerated loss of biodiversity. Establishing conservation areas can not only protect biodiversity, but also confer resilience against changes to coral reefs and their inhabitants. Planning for protection and conservation in marine systems is complex, but usually focuses on maintaining levels of biodiversity and protecting special and unique landscape features while avoiding negative impacts to socio-economic benefits. Conversely, the integration of evolutionary processes that have shaped extant species assemblages is rarely taken into account. However, it is as important to protect processes as it is to protect patterns for maintaining the evolutionary trajectories of populations and species. This review focuses on different approaches for integrating genetic analyses, such as phylogenetic diversity, phylogeography and the delineation of management units, temporal and spatial monitoring of genetic diversity and quantification of adaptive variation for protecting evolutionary resilience, into marine spatial planning, specifically for coral reef fishes. Many of these concepts are not yet readily applied to coral reef fish studies, but this synthesis highlights their potential and the importance of including historical processes into systematic biodiversity planning for conserving not only extant, but also future, biodiversity and its evolutionary potential.

Determining the ecosystem function of high-order predators is critical for evaluation of food web interactions. Insectivorous birds are abundant predators in many ecosystems yet because they forage upon small taxa, it remains largely unknown whether birds are providing ecosystem services in the form of pest control or disservices by preying upon predaceous arthropod species. We extracted DNA from noninvasive fecal samples of adult and nestling Western Bluebirds (Sialia mexicana) in California vineyards. Using universal arthropod-specific primers, we sequenced prey items via massively parallel sequencing on the Illumina MiSeq platform. Bluebirds consumed a broad diet comprising 66 unique arthropod species from 6 orders and 28 families. Aedes sp. (mosquitoes: Culicidae), a previously unknown prey, was the most common item recovered, occurring in 49.5% of the fecal samples. Ectoparasitic bird blowfly (Protocalliphora) DNA was found in 7% of adult and 11% of nestling samples, presenting clear evidence of active feeding by the avian hosts on adult or larval ectoparasites. Herbivorous insects, primarily from the orders Hemiptera and Lepidoptera, represented over half (56%) of the prey items in bluebird diets. Intraguild predation (consumption of predator or parasitoid arthropods) represented only 3% of adult and nestling dietary items. Diets of adults were significantly different from nestlings as were diets from birds sampled in different vineyard blocks. Sex, date, number of young, and individual bird (based on resampled individuals) were all insignificant factors that did not explain diet variability. Nestling age was a significant factor in explaining a small amount of the variability in dietary components. In addition, our analysis of subsampling larger fecal samples and processing them independently revealed highly dissimilar results in all 10 trials and we recommend avoiding this common methodology. Molecular scatology offers powerfully informative techniques that can reveal the ecosystem function and services provided by abundant yet cryptic avian foragers.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Monday reads

New reads, hot of the press. Very diverse spread of application, news and research.

The African Centre for DNA Barcoding (ACDB) was established in 2005 as part of a global initiative to accurately and rapidly survey biodiversity using short DNA sequences. The mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase 1 gene (CO1) was rapidly adopted as the de facto barcode for animals. Following the evaluation of several candidate loci for plants, the Plant Working Group of the Consortium for the Barcoding of Life in 2009 recommended that the two plastid genes, rbcLa and matK, be adopted as core DNA barcodes for terrestrial plants. To date, numerous studies continue to test the discriminatory power of these markers across various plant lineages. Over the past decade, we at the African Centre for DNA Barcoding, have used these core DNA barcodes to generate a barcode library for southern Africa. To date, the ACDB has contributed more than 21 000 plant barcodes and over 3 000 CO1 barcodes for animals to the Barcode of Life Database (BOLD). Building upon this effort, we at the ACDB have addressed questions related to community assembly, biogeography, phylogenetic diversification, and invasion biology. Collectively, our work demonstrates the diverse applications of DNA barcoding in ecology, systematics, evolutionary biology, and conservation.

Sequences from the DNA barcode region of the mitochondrial COI gene are an effective tool for specimen identification and for the discovery of new species. The Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) (www.boldsystems.org) currently hosts 4.5 million records from animals which have been assigned to more than 490,000 different Barcode Index Numbers (BINs), which serve as a proxy for species. Because a fourth of these BINs derive from Lepidoptera, BOLD has a strong capability to both identify specimens in this order and to support studies of faunal overlap. DNA barcode sequences were obtained from 4503 moths from 329 sites across Pakistan, specimens that represented 981 BINs from 52 families. Among 379 species with a Linnaean name assignment, all were represented by a single BIN excepting five species that showed a BIN split. Less than half (44%) of the 981 BINs had counterparts in other countries; the remaining BINs were unique to Pakistan. Another 218 BINs of Lepidoptera from Pakistan were coupled with the 981 from this study before being compared with all 116,768 BINs for this order. As expected, faunal overlap was highest with India (21%), Sri Lanka (21%), United Arab Emirates (20%) and with other Asian nations (2.1%), but it was very low with other continents including Africa (0.6%), Europe (1.3%), Australia (0.6%), Oceania (1.0%), North America (0.1%), and South America (0.1%). This study indicates the way in which DNA barcoding facilitates measures of faunal overlap even when taxa have not been assigned to a Linnean species.

Polystomes are monogenean parasites that infest mainly semi aquatic vertebrates, such as amphibians and chelonians. Owing to the lack of discriminative morphological characters and because polystomes are considered to be strictly host- and site-specific, host identity is often used as an additional character for parasite identification. Recent genetic studies, however, show that polystomes infecting freshwater turtles in outdoor turtle enclosures and natural environments, are not strictly host-specific. Therefore, we proposed a new procedure for turtle polystome taxonomy based on the combination of Cytochrome c Oxydase I sequences and two discriminant morphological characters, namely the number of genital spines and the testis shape. We tested the validity of this procedure with Polystomoides oris, which was collected from the pharyngeal cavity of the American painted turtle Chrysemys picta and two undescribed species, both collected from the pharyngeal cavity of the American slider Trachemys scripta and two other European turtles, namely the European pond turtle Emys orbicularis and the Mediterranean turtle Mauremys leprosa. A Principal Component Analysis based on both morphological characters allowed the separation of all specimens in three morphological groups, which matched well with the molecular data. As a result, we describe two new polystome species, i.e., Polystomoides soredensis n. sp. and Polystomoides scriptanus n. sp.

Fungus gnats (Sciaroidea) are a globally species rich group of lower Diptera. In Europe, Fennoscandian peninsula in particular holds a notable diversity, ca. 1000 species, of which 10 % are still unnamed. Fungus gnats are predominantly terrestrial insects, but some species dwell in wetland habitats.
Eight new fungus gnat species, belonging to the families Keroplatidae (Orfelia boreoalpina Salmela sp.n.) and Mycetophilidae (Sciophila holopaineni Salmela sp.n., S. curvata Salmela sp.n., Boletina sasakawai Salmela & Kolcsár sp.n., B. norokorpii Salmela & Kolcsár sp.n., Phronia sompio Salmela sp.n., P. reducta Salmela sp.n., P. prolongata Salmela sp.n.), are described. Four of the species are known from Fennoscandia only whilst two are supposed to have boreo-alpine disjunct ranges, i.e. having populations in Fennoscandia and the Central European Alps. One of the species probably has a boreal range (Finnish Lapland and Central Siberia). Type material of Boletina curta Sasakawa & Kimura from Japan was found to consist of two species, and a further species close to these taxa is described from Finland. Phronia elegantula Hackman is redescribed and reported for the first time from Norway. DNA barcodes are provided for the first time for five species.

Several methods of DNA extraction, coupled with 'DNA barcoding' species identification, were compared using specimens from early developmental stages of forensically important flies from the Calliphoridae and Sarcophagidae families. DNA was extracted at three immature stages - eggs, the first instar larvae, and empty pupal cases (puparia) - using four different extraction methods, namely, one simple 'homemade' extraction buffer protocol and three commercial kits. The extraction conditions, including the amount of proteinase K and incubation times, were optimized. The simple extraction buffer method was successful for half of the eggs and for the first instar larval samples. The DNA Lego Kit and DEP-25 DNA Extraction Kit were useful for DNA extractions from the first instar larvae samples, and the DNA Lego Kit was also successful regarding the extraction from eggs. The QIAamp DNA mini kit was the most effective; the extraction was successful with regard to all sample types - eggs, larvae, and pupari.

Mitochondrial introns intermit coding regions of genes and feature characteristic secondary structures and splicing mechanisms. In metazoans, mitochondrial introns have only been detected in sponges, cnidarians, placozoans and one annelid species. Within demosponges, group I and group II introns are present in six families. Based on different insertion sites within the cox1 gene and secondary structures, four types of group I and two types of group II introns are known, which can harbor up to three encoding homing endonuclease genes (HEG) of the LAGLIDADG family (group I) and/or reverse transcriptase (group II). However, only little is known about sponge intron mobility, transmission, and origin due to the lack of a comprehensive dataset. We analyzed the largest dataset on sponge mitochondrial group I introns to date: 95 specimens, from 11 different sponge genera which provided novel insights into the evolution of group I introns.
For the first time group I introns were detected in four genera of the sponge family Scleritodermidae (Scleritoderma, Microscleroderma, Aciculites, Setidium). We demonstrated that group I introns in sponges aggregate in the most conserved regions of cox1. We showed that co-occurrence of two introns in cox1 is unique among metazoans, but not uncommon in sponges. However, this combination always associates an active intron with a degenerating one. Earlier hypotheses of HGT were confirmed and for the first time VGT and secondary losses of introns conclusively demonstrated.
This study validates the subclass Spirophorina (Tetractinellida) as an intron hotspot in sponges. Our analyses confirm that most sponge group I introns probably originated from fungi. DNA barcoding is discussed and the application of alternative primers suggested.