bioRxiv: Integrated sequencing approaches for microbiome analyses

Combining whole genome shotgun sequencing and rDNA amplicon analyses to improve detection of microbe-microbe interaction networks in plant leaves

Regalado, Lundberg et al., bioRxiv 823492, posted October 30, 2019.

Microorganisms from all domains of life establish associations with plants. Although some harm the plant, others antagonize pathogens or prime the plant immune system, acquire nutrients, tune plant hormone levels, or perform additional services. Most culture-independent plant microbiome research has focused on amplicon sequencing of 16S rDNA and/or the internal transcribed spacer (ITS) of rDNA loci, but the decreasing cost of high-throughput sequencing has made shotgun metagenome sequencing increasingly accessible. Here, we describe shotgun sequencing of 275 wild Arabidopsis thaliana leaf microbiomes from southwest Germany, with additional bacterial 16S rDNA and eukaryotic ITS1 amplicon data from 176 of these samples. The shotgun data were dominated by bacterial sequences, with eukaryotes contributing only a minority of reads. For shotgun and amplicon data, microbial membership showed weak associations with both site of origin and plant genotype, both of which were highly confounded in this dataset. There was large variation among microbiomes, with one extreme comprising samples of low complexity and a high load of microorganisms typical of infected plants, and the other extreme being samples of high complexity and a low microbial load. We use the metagenome data, which captures the ratio of bacterial to plant DNA in leaves of wild plants, to scale the 16S rDNA amplicon data such that they reflect absolute bacterial abundance. We show that this cost-effective hybrid strategy overcomes compositionality problems in amplicon data and leads to fundamentally different conclusions about microbiome community assembly.