Reproducibility and quantitation of amplicon sequencing-based detection

ISME J. 2011 Aug;5(8):1303-13. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2011.11. Epub 2011 Feb 24.


To determine the reproducibility and quantitation of the amplicon sequencing-based detection approach for analyzing microbial community structure, a total of 24 microbial communities from a long-term global change experimental site were examined. Genomic DNA obtained from each community was used to amplify 16S rRNA genes with two or three barcode tags as technical replicates in the presence of a small quantity (0.1% wt/wt) of genomic DNA from Shewanella oneidensis MR-1 as the control. The technical reproducibility of the amplicon sequencing-based detection approach is quite low, with an average operational taxonomic unit (OTU) overlap of 17.2%±2.3% between two technical replicates, and 8.2%±2.3% among three technical replicates, which is most likely due to problems associated with random sampling processes. Such variations in technical replicates could have substantial effects on estimating β-diversity but less on α-diversity. A high variation was also observed in the control across different samples (for example, 66.7-fold for the forward primer), suggesting that the amplicon sequencing-based detection approach could not be quantitative. In addition, various strategies were examined to improve the comparability of amplicon sequencing data, such as increasing biological replicates, and removing singleton sequences and less-representative OTUs across biological replicates. Finally, as expected, various statistical analyses with preprocessed experimental data revealed clear differences in the composition and structure of microbial communities between warming and non-warming, or between clipping and non-clipping. Taken together, these results suggest that amplicon sequencing-based detection is useful in analyzing microbial community structure even though it is not reproducible and quantitative. However, great caution should be taken in experimental design and data interpretation when the amplicon sequencing-based detection approach is used for quantitative analysis of the β-diversity of microbial communities.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Climate Change
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • Metagenomics / methods*
  • Oklahoma
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA / methods*
  • Shewanella / genetics
  • Shewanella / isolation & purification*
  • Soil Microbiology*


  • DNA, Bacterial
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S