Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering Publications

Challenges and opportunities in understanding microbial communities with metagenome assembly (accompanied by IPython Notebook tutorial)

Adina C. Howe, Iowa State University
Patrick S. G. Chain, Los Alamos National Laboratory

This article is from Frontiers in Microbiology 6 (2015): 678, doi:10.3389/fmicb.2015.00678. Posted with permission.


Metagenomic investigations hold great promise for informing the genetics, physiology, and ecology of environmental microorganisms. Current challenges for metagenomic analysis are related to our ability to connect the dots between sequencing reads, their population of origin, and their encoding functions. Assembly-based methods reduce dataset size by extending overlapping reads into larger contiguous sequences (contigs), providing contextual information for genetic sequences that does not rely on existing references. These methods, however, tend to be computationally intensive and are again challenged by sequencing errors as well as by genomic repeats While numerous tools have been developed based on these methodological concepts, they present confounding choices and training requirements to metagenomic investigators. To help with accessibility to assembly tools, this review also includes an IPython Notebook metagenomic assembly tutorial. This tutorial has instructions for execution any operating system using Amazon Elastic Cloud Compute and guides users through downloading, assembly, and mapping reads to contigs of a mock microbiome metagenome. Despite its challenges, metagenomic analysis has already revealed novel insights into many environments on Earth. As software, training, and data continue to emerge, metagenomic data access and its discoveries will to grow.