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Profiling bacterial communities by MinION sequencing of ribosomal operons


Date: 15th September 2017 | Source: BMC Microbiome

Authors: Lee J. Kerkhof, Kevin P. Dillon, Max M. Häggblom, Lora R. McGuinness.

Note: the chemistry used in this paper has since been superseded.


An approach utilizing the long-read capability of the Oxford Nanopore MinION to rapidly sequence bacterial ribosomal operons of complex natural communities was developed. Microbial fingerprinting employs domain-specific forward primers (16S rRNA subunit), reverse primers (23S rRNA subunit), and a high-fidelity Taq polymerase with proofreading capabilities. Amplicons contained both ribosomal subunits for broad-based phylogenetic assignment (~ 3900 bp of sequence), plus the intergenic spacer (ITS) region (~ 300 bp) for potential strain-specific identification.


To test the approach, bacterial rRNA operons (~ 4200 bp) were amplified from six DNA samples employing a mixture of farm soil and bioreactor DNA in known concentrations. Each DNA sample mixture was barcoded, sequenced in quadruplicate (n = 24), on two separate 6-h runs using the MinION system (R7.3 flow cell; MAP005 and 006 chemistry). From nearly 90,000 MinION reads, roughly 33,000 forward and reverse sequences were obtained. This yielded over 10,000 2D sequences which were analyzed using a simplified data analysis pipeline based on NCBI Blast and assembly with Geneious software. The method could detect over 1000 operational taxonomic units in the sample sets in a quantitative manner. Global sequence coverage for the various rRNA operons ranged from 1 to 1951x. An iterative assembly scheme was developed to reconstruct those rRNA operons with > 35x coverage from a set of 30 operational taxonomic units (OTUs) among the ProteobacteriaActinobacteriaAcidobacteriaFirmicutes, and Gemmatimonadetes. Phylogenetic analysis of the 16S rRNA and 23S rRNA genes from each operon demonstrated similar tree topologies with species/strain-level resolution.


This sequencing method represents a cost-effective way to profile microbial communities. Because the MinION is small, portable, and runs on a laptop, the possibility of microbiota characterization in the field or on robotic platforms becomes realistic.

‘Our analysis demonstrated that the MinION has the ability to provide rRNA operon sequence data of sufficient quality for characterising the microbiota of complex environmental samples and provided results that are reproducible, quantitative, and consistent’

Kerkhof, L.J. et al

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