Discrete false-discovery rate improves identification of differentially abundant microbes

Lingjing Jiang, Amnon Amir, James T. Morton, Ruth Heller, Ery Arias-Castro, Rob Knight*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Differential abundance testing is a critical task in microbiome studies that is complicated by the sparsity of data matrices. Here we adapt for microbiome studies a solution from the field of gene expression analysis to produce a new method, discrete false-discovery rate (DS-FDR), that greatly improves the power to detect differential taxa by exploiting the discreteness of the data. Additionally, DSFDR is relatively robust to the number of noninformative features, and thus removes the problem of filtering taxonomy tables by an arbitrary abundance threshold. We show by using a combination of simulations and reanalysis of nine real-world microbiome data sets that this new method outperforms existing methods at the differential abundance testing task, producing a false-discovery rate that is up to threefold more accurate, and halves the number of samples required to find a given difference (thus increasing the efficiency of microbiome experiments considerably). We therefore expect DS-FDR to be widely applied in microbiome studies.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere00092
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2017


  • Differential abundance
  • Discrete test statistics
  • FDR
  • High dimension
  • Microbiome
  • Multiple comparison
  • Multiple testing
  • Sparse
  • Statistics


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