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Evaluation of the Effect of Storage Methods on Fecal, Saliva, and Skin Microbiome Composition


As the number of human microbiome studies expand, it is increasingly important to identify cost-effective, practical preservatives that allow for room temperature sample storage. Here, we reanalyzed 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing data from a large sample storage study published in 2016 and performed shotgun metagenomic sequencing on remnant DNA from this experiment. Both results support the initial findings that 95% ethanol, a nontoxic, cost-effective preservative, is effective at preserving samples at room temperature for weeks. We expanded on this analysis by collecting a new set of fecal, saliva, and skin samples to determine the optimal ratio of 95% ethanol to sample. We identified optimal collection protocols for fecal samples (storing a fecal swab in 95% ethanol) and saliva samples (storing unstimulated saliva in 95% ethanol at a ratio of 1:2). Storing skin swabs in 95% ethanol reduced microbial biomass and disrupted community composition, highlighting the difficulties of low biomass sample preservation. The results from this study identify practical solutions for large-scale analyses of fecal and oral microbial communities.IMPORTANCE Expanding our knowledge of microbial communities across diverse environments includes collecting samples in places far from the laboratory. Identifying cost-effective preservatives that will enable room temperature storage of microbial communities for sequencing analysis is crucial to enabling microbiome analyses across diverse populations. Here, we validate findings that 95% ethanol efficiently preserves microbial composition at room temperature for weeks. We also identified the optimal ratio of 95% ethanol to sample for stool and saliva to preserve both microbial load and composition. These results provide rationale for an accessible, nontoxic, cost-effective solution that will enable crowdsourcing microbiome studies, such as The Microsetta Initiative, and lower the barrier for collecting diverse samples.

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