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  1. Abstract Background Microbes and their viruses are hidden engines driving Earth’s ecosystems from the oceans and soils to humans and bioreactors. Though gene marker approaches can now be complemented by genome-resolved studies of inter-(macrodiversity) and intra-(microdiversity) population variation, analytical tools to do so remain scattered or under-developed. Results Here, we introduce MetaPop, an open-source bioinformatic pipeline that provides a single interface to analyze and visualize microbial and viral community metagenomes at both the macro - and microdiversity levels. Macrodiversity estimates include population abundances and α- and β-diversity. Microdiversity calculations include identification of single nucleotide polymorphisms, novel codon-constrained linkage of SNPs, nucleotide diversity ( π and θ ), and selective pressures (pN/pS and Tajima’s D ) within and fixation indices ( F ST ) between populations. MetaPop will also identify genes with distinct codon usage. Following rigorous validation, we applied MetaPop to the gut viromes of autistic children that underwent fecal microbiota transfers and their neurotypical peers. The macrodiversity results confirmed our prior findings for viral populations (microbial shotgun metagenomes were not available) that diversity did not significantly differ between autistic and neurotypical children. However, by also quantifying microdiversity, MetaPop revealed lower average viral nucleotide diversity ( π ) in autisticmore »children. Analysis of the percentage of genomes detected under positive selection was also lower among autistic children, suggesting that higher viral π in neurotypical children may be beneficial because it allows populations to better “bet hedge” in changing environments. Further, comparisons of microdiversity pre- and post-FMT in autistic children revealed that the delivery FMT method (oral versus rectal) may influence viral activity and engraftment of microdiverse viral populations, with children who received their FMT rectally having higher microdiversity post-FMT. Overall, these results show that analyses at the macro level alone can miss important biological differences. Conclusions These findings suggest that standardized population and genetic variation analyses will be invaluable for maximizing biological inference, and MetaPop provides a convenient tool package to explore the dual impact of macro - and microdiversity across microbial communities.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 1, 2023
  2. Background Viruses influence global patterns of microbial diversity and nutrient cycles. Though viral metagenomics (viromics), specifically targeting dsDNA viruses, has been critical for revealing viral roles across diverse ecosystems, its analyses differ in many ways from those used for microbes. To date, viromics benchmarking has covered read pre-processing, assembly, relative abundance, read mapping thresholds and diversity estimation, but other steps would benefit from benchmarking and standardization. Here we use in silico-generated datasets and an extensive literature survey to evaluate and highlight how dataset composition (i.e., viromes vs bulk metagenomes) and assembly fragmentation impact (i) viral contig identification tool, (ii) virus taxonomic classification, and (iii) identification and curation of auxiliary metabolic genes (AMGs). Results The in silico benchmarking of five commonly used virus identification tools show that gene-content-based tools consistently performed well for long (≥3 kbp) contigs, while k -mer- and blast-based tools were uniquely able to detect viruses from short (≤3 kbp) contigs. Notably, however, the performance increase of k -mer- and blast-based tools for short contigs was obtained at the cost of increased false positives (sometimes up to ∼5% for virome and ∼75% bulk samples), particularly when eukaryotic or mobile genetic element sequences were included in the test datasets.more »For viral classification, variously sized genome fragments were assessed using gene-sharing network analytics to quantify drop-offs in taxonomic assignments, which revealed correct assignations ranging from ∼95% (whole genomes) down to ∼80% (3 kbp sized genome fragments). A similar trend was also observed for other viral classification tools such as VPF-class, ViPTree and VIRIDIC, suggesting that caution is warranted when classifying short genome fragments and not full genomes. Finally, we highlight how fragmented assemblies can lead to erroneous identification of AMGs and outline a best-practices workflow to curate candidate AMGs in viral genomes assembled from metagenomes. Conclusion Together, these benchmarking experiments and annotation guidelines should aid researchers seeking to best detect, classify, and characterize the myriad viruses ‘hidden’ in diverse sequence datasets.« less