Wednesday, March 30, 2016

New software on the block

Today a few new developments from the biodiversity informatics field. Of course they have something to do with DNA barcoding.

The introduction of high throughput sequencing technologies has triggered an increase of the number of studies in which the microbiota of environmental and human samples is characterized through the sequencing of selected marker genes. While experimental protocols have undergone a process of standardization that makes them accessible to a large community of scientist, standard and robust data analysis pipelines are still lacking. Here we introduce MICCA, a software pipeline for the processing of amplicon metagenomic datasets that efficiently combines quality filtering, clustering of Operational Taxonomic Units (OTUs), taxonomy assignment and phylogenetic tree inference. MICCA provides accurate results reaching a good compromise among modularity and usability. Moreover, we introduce a de-novo clustering algorithm specifically designed for the inference of Operational Taxonomic Units (OTUs). Tests on real and synthetic datasets shows that thanks to the optimized reads filtering process and to the new clustering algorithm, MICCA provides estimates of the number of OTUs and of other common ecological indices that are more accurate and robust than currently available pipelines. Analysis of public metagenomic datasets shows that the higher consistency of results improves our understanding of the structure of environmental and human associated microbial communities. MICCA is an open source project.

Taxonomic identification of biological specimens based on DNA sequence information (a.k.a. DNA barcoding) is becoming increasingly common in biodiversity science. Although several methods have been proposed, many of them are not universally applicable due to the need for prerequisite phylogenetic/machine-learning analyses, the need for huge computational resources, or the lack of a firm theoretical background. Here, we propose two new computational methods of DNA barcoding and show a benchmark for bacterial/archeal 16S, animal COX1, fungal internal transcribed spacer, and three plant chloroplast (rbcL, matK, and trnH-psbA) barcode loci that can be used to compare the performance of existing and new methods. The benchmark was performed under two alternative situations: query sequences were available in the corresponding reference sequence databases in one, but were not available in the other. In the former situation, the commonly used “1-nearest-neighbor” (1-NN) method, which assigns the taxonomic information of the most similar sequences in a reference database (i.e., BLAST-top-hit reference sequence) to a query, displays the highest rate and highest precision of successful taxonomic identification. However, in the latter situation, the 1-NN method produced extremely high rates of misidentification for all the barcode loci examined. In contrast, one of our new methods, the query-centric auto-k-nearest-neighbor (QCauto) method, consistently produced low rates of misidentification for all the loci examined in both situations. These results indicate that the 1-NN method is most suitable if the reference sequences of all potentially observable species are available in databases; otherwise, the QCauto method returns the most reliable identification results. The benchmark results also indicated that the taxon coverage of reference sequences is far from complete for genus or species level identification in all the barcode loci examined. Therefore, we need to accelerate the registration of reference barcode sequences to apply high-throughput DNA barcoding to genus or species level identification in biodiversity research.
The two new methods (NNCauto and QCauto) described above were implemented in the software package Claident.

DNA metabarcoding offers new perspectives in biodiversity research. This recently developed approach to ecosystem study relies heavily on the use of next-generation sequencing (NGS) and thus calls upon the ability to deal with huge sequence data sets. The obitools package satisfies this requirement thanks to a set of programs specifically designed for analysing NGS data in a DNA metabarcoding context. Their capacity to filter and edit sequences while taking into account taxonomic annotation helps to set up tailor-made analysis pipelines for a broad range of DNA metabarcoding applications, including biodiversity surveys or diet analyses. The obitools package is distributed as an open source software available on the following website: A Galaxy wrapper is available on the GenOuest core facility toolshed:

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