Meta-Apo improves accuracy of 16S-amplicon-based prediction of microbiome function


Background: Due to their much lower costs in experiment and computation than metagenomic whole-genome sequencing (WGS), 16S rRNA gene amplicons have been widely used for predicting the functional profiles of microbiome, via software tools such as PICRUSt 2. However, due to the potential PCR bias and gene profile variation among phylogenetically related genomes, functional profiles predicted from 16S amplicons may deviate from WGS-derived ones, resulting in misleading results. Results: Here we present Meta-Apo, which greatly reduces or even eliminates such deviation, thus deduces much more consistent diversity patterns between the two approaches. Tests of Meta-Apo on > 5000 16S-rRNA amplicon human microbiome samples from 4 body sites showed the deviation between the two strategies is significantly reduced by using only 15 WGS-amplicon training sample pairs. Moreover, Meta-Apo enables cross-platform functional comparison between WGS and amplicon samples, thus greatly improve 16S-based microbiome diagnosis, e.g. accuracy of gingivitis diagnosis via 16S-derived functional profiles was elevated from 65 to 95% by WGS-based classification. Therefore, with the low cost of 16S-amplicon sequencing, Meta-Apo can produce a reliable, high-resolution view of microbiome function equivalent to that offered by shotgun WGS. Conclusions: This suggests that large-scale, function-oriented microbiome sequencing projects can probably benefit from the lower cost of 16S-amplicon strategy, without sacrificing the precision in functional reconstruction that otherwise requires WGS. An optimized C++ implementation of Meta-Apo is available on GitHub (https://github.com/qibebt-bioinfo/meta-apo) under a GNU GPL license. It takes the functional profiles of a few paired WGS:16S-amplicon samples as training, and outputs the calibrated functional profiles for the much larger number of 16S-amplicon samples.

Publication Title

BMC Genomics