Joint analysis of multiple metagenomic samples

Yael Baran, Eran Halperin*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The availability of metagenomic sequencing data, generated by sequencing DNA pooled from multiple microbes living jointly, has increased sharply in the last few years with developments in sequencing technology. Characterizing the contents of metagenomic samples is a challenging task, which has been extensively attempted by both supervised and unsupervised techniques, each with its own limitations. Common to practically all the methods is the processing of single samples only; when multiple samples are sequenced, each is analyzed separately and the results are combined. In this paper we propose to perform a combined analysis of a set of samples in order to obtain a better characterization of each of the samples, and provide two applications of this principle. First, we use an unsupervised probabilistic mixture model to infer hidden components shared across metagenomic samples. We incorporate the model in a novel framework for studying association of microbial sequence elements with phenotypes, analogous to the genome-wide association studies performed on human genomes: We demonstrate that stratification may result in false discoveries of such associations, and that the components inferred by the model can be used to correct for this stratification. Second, we propose a novel read clustering (also termed "binning") algorithm which operates on multiple samples simultaneously, leveraging on the assumption that the different samples contain the same microbial species, possibly in different proportions. We show that integrating information across multiple samples yields more precise binning on each of the samples. Moreover, for both applications we demonstrate that given a fixed depth of coverage, the average per-sample performance generally increases with the number of sequenced samples as long as the per-sample coverage is high enough.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1002373
JournalPLoS Computational Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2012


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