What is metagenomics

Technical Faculty

Over 99% of the microbial species observed in nature cannot be cultivated, which makes them inaccessible for classical genomic studies. Metagenomics and single cell genomics are two approaches to study "microbial dark matter".

Metagenomics, the direct analysis of DNA obtained from environmental samples, is a strategy to reveal the diversity of the microbial world. Current sequencing technologies can generate more than a terabyte of sequence data in a single experiment, which enables sequence-based metagenomic reconstruction of complete genes or even entire genomes from environmental samples. The Computational Metagenomics working group, headed by Prof. Dr. Alexander Sczyrba develops bioinformatics tools and pipelines for the analysis of metagenomics studies. Since the data sets grow extremely quickly, a special focus of our research is the application of cloud computing technologies in order to dynamically scale the analyzes on large computing resources.

A complementary approach to sequencing the DNA of an entire microbial community is single cell genomics. DNA sequencing from the amplified genome of individual cells allows the genomes of uncultivated species to be examined. However, the enormous bias that arises from the amplification and possible sample contamination is a challenge for bioinformatics analysis. Research in the group is currently focused on bioinformatics approaches for preprocessing single-cell sequence data and automated detection possible sample contamination, a difficult task if the target genome is not closely related to a previously sequenced genome.

A promising approach for future metagenomic studies is the combination of high-throughput metagenome sequencing and large-scale single-cell genomics. Both data sources can be combined for bioinformatics analyzes in order to gain a better understanding of the phylogenetic diversity of the microbial communities, their population structure and their functionality.