Identification and Removal of Contaminant Sequences From Ribosomal Gene Databases: Lessons From the Census of Deep Life
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Earth's subsurface environment is one of the largest, yet least studied, biomes on Earth, and many questions remain regarding what microorganisms are indigenous to the subsurface. Through the activity of the Census of Deep Life (CoDL) and the Deep Carbon Observatory, an open access 16S ribosomal RNA gene sequence database from diverse subsurface environments has been compiled. However, due to low quantities of biomass in the deep subsurface, the potential for incorporation of contaminants from reagents used during sample collection, processing, and/or sequencing is high. Thus, to understand the ecology of subsurface microorganisms (i.e., the distribution, richness, or survival), it is necessary to minimize, identify, and remove contaminant sequences that will skew the relative abundances of all taxa in the sample. In this meta-analysis, we identify putative contaminants associated with the CoDL dataset, recommend best practices for removing contaminants from samples, and propose a series of best practices for subsurface microbiology sampling. The most abundant putative contaminant genera observed, independent of evenness across samples, were Propionibacterium, Aquabacterium, Ralstonia, and Acinetobacter. While the top five most frequently observed genera were Pseudomonas, Propionibacterium, Acinetobacter, Ralstonia, and Sphingomonas. The majority of the most frequently observed genera (high evenness) were associated with reagent or potential human contamination. Additionally, in DNA extraction blanks, we observed potential archaeal contaminants, including methanogens, which have not been discussed in previous contamination studies. Such contaminants would directly affect the interpretation of subsurface molecular studies, as methanogenesis is an important subsurface biogeochemical process. Utilizing previously identified contaminant genera, we found that ∼27% of the total dataset were identified as contaminant sequences that likely originate from DNA extraction and DNA cleanup methods. Thus, controls must be taken at every step of the collection and processing procedure when working with low biomass environments such as, but not limited to, portions of Earth's deep subsurface. Taken together, we stress that the CoDL dataset is an incredible resource for the broader research community interested in subsurface life, and steps to remove contamination derived sequences must be taken prior to using this dataset.
author list (cited authors)
Sheik, C. S., Reese, B. K., Twing, K. I., Sylvan, J. B., Grim, S. L., Schrenk, M. O., Sogin, M. L., & Colwell, F. S.
complete list of authors
Sheik, Cody S||Reese, Brandi Kiel||Twing, Katrina I||Sylvan, Jason B||Grim, Sharon L||Schrenk, Matthew O||Sogin, Mitchell L||Colwell, Frederick S