Developing whole cell standards for the microbiome field

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Background: Effective standardisation of the microbiome field is essential to facilitate global translational research and increase the reproducibility of microbiome studies. In this study, we describe the development and validation of a whole cell reference reagent specific to the gut microbiome by the UK National Institute for Biological Standards and Control. We also provide and test a two-step reporting framework to allow microbiome researchers to quickly and accurately validate choices of DNA extraction, sequencing, and bioinformatic pipelines. Results: Using 20 strains that are commonly found in the gut, we developed a whole cell reference reagent (WC-Gut RR) for the evaluation of the DNA extraction protocols commonly used in microbiome pipelines. DNA was first analysed using the physicochemical measures of yield, integrity, and purity, which demonstrated kits widely differed in the quality of the DNA they produced. Importantly, the combination of the WC-Gut RR and the three physicochemical measures allowed us to differentiate clearly between kit performance. We next assessed the ability of WC-Gut RR to evaluate kit performance in the reconstitution of accurate taxonomic profiles. We applied a four-measure framework consisting of Sensitivity, false-positive relative abundance (FPRA), Diversity, and Similarity as previously described for DNA reagents. Using the WC-Gut RR and these four measures, we could reliably identify the DNA extraction kits’ biases when using with both 16S rRNA sequencing and shotgun sequencing. Moreover, when combining this with complementary DNA standards, we could estimate the relative bias contributions of DNA extraction kits vs bioinformatic analysis. Finally, we assessed WC-Gut RR alongside other commercially available reagents. The analysis here clearly demonstrates that reagents of lower complexity, not composed of anaerobic and hard-to-lyse strains from the gut, can artificially inflate the performance of microbiome DNA extraction kits and bioinformatic pipelines. Conclusions: We produced a complex whole cell reagent that is specific for the gut microbiome and can be used to evaluate and benchmark DNA extractions in microbiome studies. Used alongside a DNA standard, the NIBSC DNA-Gut-Mix RR helps estimating where biases occur in microbiome pipelines. In the future, we aim to establish minimum thresholds for data quality through an interlaboratory collaborative study. [MediaObject not available: see fulltext.].




Sergaki, C., Anwar, S., Fritzsche, M., Mate, R., Francis, R. J., MacLellan-Gibson, K., … Amos, G. C. A. (2022). Developing whole cell standards for the microbiome field. Microbiome, 10(1).

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