Journal Club Topic of Discussion: Binning/MAGs

Accurate and Complete Genomes from Metagenomes


Genomes are an integral component of the biological information about an organism and, logically, the more complete the genome, the more informative it is. Historically, bacterial and archaeal genomes were reconstructed from pure (monoclonal) cultures and the first reported sequences were manually curated to completion. However, the bottleneck imposed by the requirement for isolates precluded genomic insights for the vast majority of microbial life. Shotgun sequencing of microbial communities, referred to initially as community genomics and subsequently as genome-resolved metagenomics, can circumvent this limitation by obtaining metagenome-assembled genomes (MAGs), but gaps, local assembly errors, chimeras and contamination by fragments from other genomes limit the value of these genomes. Here, we discuss genome curation to improve and in some cases achieve complete (circularized, no gaps) MAGs (CMAGs). To date, few CMAGs have been generated, although notably some are from very complex systems such as soil and sediment. Through analysis of ∼7000 published complete bacterial isolate genomes, we verify the value of cumulative GC skew in combination with other metrics to establish bacterial genome sequence accuracy. Interestingly, analysis of cumulative GC skew identified potential mis-assemblies in some reference genomes of isolated bacteria and the repeat sequences that likely gave rise to them. We discuss methods that could be implemented in bioinformatic approaches for curation to ensure that metabolic and evolutionary analyses can be based on very high-quality genomes.

Bioinformatics strategies for taxonomy independent binning and visualization of sequences in shotgun metagenomics


One of main steps in a study of microbial communities is resolving their composition, diversity and function. In the past, these issues were mostly addressed by the use of amplicon sequencing of a target gene because of reasonable price and easier computational postprocessing of the bioinformatic data. With the advancement of sequencing techniques, the main focus shifted to the whole metagenome shotgun sequencing, which allows much more detailed analysis of the metagenomic data, including reconstruction of novel microbial genomes and to gain knowledge about genetic potential and metabolic capacities of whole environments. On the other hand, the output of whole metagenomic shotgun sequencing is mixture of short DNA fragments belonging to various genomes, therefore this approach requires more sophisticated computational algorithms for clustering of related sequences, commonly referred to as sequence binning. There are currently two types of binning methods: taxonomy dependent and taxonomy independent. The first type classifies the DNA fragments by performing a standard homology inference against a reference database, while the latter performs the reference-free binning by applying clustering techniques on features extracted from the sequences. In this review, we describe the strategies within the second approach. Although these strategies do not require prior knowledge, they have higher demands on the length of sequences. Besides their basic principle, an overview of particular methods and tools is provided. Furthermore, the review covers the utilization of the methods in context with the length of sequences and discusses the needs for metagenomic data preprocessing in form of initial assembly prior to binning.