Motivation: With the rapid development of next-generation sequencing techniques, metagenomics, also known as environmental genomics, has emerged as an exciting research area that enables us to analyze the microbial environment in which we live. An important step for metagenomic data analysis is the identification and taxonomic characterization of DNA fragments (reads or contigs) resulting from sequencing a sample of mixed species. This step is referred to as 'binning'. Binning algorithms that are based on sequence similarity and sequence composition markers rely heavily on the reference genomes of known microorganisms or phylogenetic markers. Due to the limited availability of reference genomes and the bias and low availability of markers, these algorithms may not be applicable in all cases. Unsupervised binning algorithms which can handle fragments from unknown species provide an alternative approach. However, existing unsupervised binning algorithms only work on datasets either with balanced species abundance ratios or rather different abundance ratios, but not both.
Results: In this article, we present MetaCluster 3.0, an integrated binning method based on the unsupervised top--down separation and bottom--up merging strategy, which can bin metagenomic fragments of species with very balanced abundance ratios (say 1:1) to very different abundance ratios (e.g. 1:24) with consistently higher accuracy than existing methods.
Availability: MetaCluster 3.0 can be downloaded at http://i.cs.hku.hk/~alse/MetaCluster/.