Assembling reads improves taxonomic classification of species


Most current approach to metagenomic classification employ short next generation sequencing (NGS) reads that are present in metagenomic samples to identify unique genomic regions. NGS reads, however, might not be long enough to differentiate similar genomes. This suggests a potential for using longer reads to improve classification performance. Presently, longer reads tend to have a higher rate of sequencing errors. Thus, given the pros and cons, it remains unclear which types of reads is better for metagenomic classification. We compared two taxonomic classification protocols: a traditional assembly-free protocol and a novel assembly-based protocol. The novel assembly-based protocol consists of assembling short-reads into longer reads, which will be subsequently classified by a traditional taxonomic classifier. We discovered that most classifiers made fewer predictions with longer reads and that they achieved higher classification performance on synthetic metagenomic data. Generally, we observed a significant increase in precision, while having similar recall rates. On real data, we observed similar characteristics that suggest that the classifiers might have similar performance of higher precision with similar recall with longer reads. We have shown a noticeable difference in performance between assembly-based and assembly-free taxonomic classification. This finding strongly suggests that classifying species in metagenomic environments can be achieved with higher overall performance simply by assembling short reads. Further, it also suggests that long-read technologies might be better for species classification.

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