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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Evaluation of the reproducibility of amplicon sequencing with Illumina MiSeq platform.


Illumina's MiSeq has become the dominant platform for gene amplicon sequencing in microbial ecology studies; however, various technical concerns, such as reproducibility, still exist. To assess reproducibility, 16S rRNA gene amplicons from 18 soil samples of a reciprocal transplantation experiment were sequenced on an Illumina MiSeq. The V4 region of 16S rRNA gene from each sample was sequenced in triplicate with each replicate having a unique barcode. The average OTU overlap, without considering sequence abundance, at a rarefaction level of 10,323 sequences was 33.4±2.1% and 20.2±1.7% between two and among three technical replicates, respectively. When OTU sequence abundance was considered, the average sequence abundance weighted OTU overlap was 85.6±1.6% and 81.2±2.1% for two and three replicates, respectively. Removing singletons significantly increased the overlap for both (~1-3%, p<0.001). Increasing the sequencing depth to 160,000 reads by deep sequencing increased OTU overlap both when sequence abundance was considered (95%) and when not (44%). However, if singletons were not removed the overlap between two technical replicates (not considering sequence abundance) plateaus at 39% with 30,000 sequences. Diversity measures were not affected by the low overlap as α-diversities were similar among technical replicates while β-diversities (Bray-Curtis) were much smaller among technical replicates than among treatment replicates (e.g., 0.269 vs. 0.374). Higher diversity coverage, but lower OTU overlap, was observed when replicates were sequenced in separate runs. Detrended correspondence analysis indicated that while there was considerable variation among technical replicates, the reproducibility was sufficient for detecting treatment effects for the samples examined. These results suggest that although there is variation among technical replicates, amplicon sequencing on MiSeq is useful for analyzing microbial community structure if used appropriately and with caution. For example, including technical replicates, removing spurious sequences and unrepresentative OTUs, using a clustering method with a high stringency for OTU generation, estimating treatment effects at higher taxonomic levels, and adapting the unique molecular identifier (UMI) and other newly developed methods to lower PCR and sequencing error and to identify true low abundance rare species all can increase reproducibility.

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