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Note: the chemistry used in this paper has since been superseded.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

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