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Journal Article

Selection of Appropriate Metagenome Taxonomic Classifiers for Ancient Microbiome Research


Herbig,  Alexander
Archaeogenetics, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Max Planck Society;


Warinner,  Christina
Archaeogenetics, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Max Planck Society;
Kostbare Kulturen, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Max Planck Society;

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Velsko, I. M., Frantz, L. A. F., Herbig, A., Larson, G., & Warinner, C. (2018). Selection of Appropriate Metagenome Taxonomic Classifiers for Ancient Microbiome Research. mSystems, 3(4): e00080-18. doi:10.1128/mSystems.00080-18.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0001-E28E-0
Metagenomics enables the study of complex microbial communities from myriad sources, including the remains of oral and gut microbiota preserved in archaeological dental calculus and paleofeces, respectively. While accurate taxonomic assignment is essential to this process, DNA damage characteristic of ancient samples (e.g., reduction in fragment size and cytosine deamination) may reduce the accuracy of read taxonomic assignment. Using a set of in silico-generated metagenomic data sets, we investigated how the addition of ancient DNA (aDNA) damage patterns influences microbial taxonomic assignment by five widely used profilers: QIIME/UCLUST, MetaPhlAn2, MIDAS, CLARK-S, and MALT. In silico-generated data sets were designed to mimic dental plaque, consisting of 40, 100, and 200 microbial species/strains, both with and without simulated aDNA damage patterns. Following taxonomic assignment, the profiles were evaluated for species presence/absence, relative abundance, alpha diversity, beta diversity, and specific taxonomic assignment biases. Unifrac metrics indicated that both MIDAS and MetaPhlAn2 reconstructed the most accurate community structure. QIIME/UCLUST, CLARK-S, and MALT had the highest number of inaccurate taxonomic assignments; false-positive rates were highest by CLARK-S and QIIME/UCLUST. Filtering out species present at <0.1% abundance greatly increased the accuracy of CLARK-S and MALT. All programs except CLARK-S failed to detect some species from the input file that were in their databases. The addition of ancient DNA damage resulted in minimal differences in species detection and relative abundance between simulated ancient and modern data sets for most programs. Overall, taxonomic profiling biases are program specific rather than damage dependent, and the choice of taxonomic classification program should be tailored to specific research questions.IMPORTANCE Ancient biomolecules from oral and gut microbiome samples have been shown to be preserved in the archaeological record. Studying ancient microbiome communities using metagenomic techniques offers a unique opportunity to reconstruct the evolutionary trajectories of microbial communities through time. DNA accumulates specific damage over time, which could potentially affect taxonomic classification and our ability to accurately reconstruct community assemblages. It is therefore necessary to assess whether ancient DNA (aDNA) damage patterns affect metagenomic taxonomic profiling. Here, we assessed biases in community structure, diversity, species detection, and relative abundance estimates by five popular metagenomic taxonomic classification programs using in silico-generated data sets with and without aDNA damage. Damage patterns had minimal impact on the taxonomic profiles produced by each program, while false-positive rates and biases were intrinsic to each program. Therefore, the most appropriate classification program is one that minimizes the biases related to the questions being addressed.