Powered by recent advances in next-generation sequencing technologies, metagenomics has already unveiled vast microbial biodiversity in a range of environments, and is increasingly being applied in clinics for difficult-to-diagnose cases. It can be tempting to suggest that metagenomics could be used as a "universal test" for all pathogens without the need to conduct lengthy serial testing using specific assays. While this is an exciting prospect, there are issues that need to be addressed before metagenomic methods can be applied with rigor as a diagnostic tool, including the potential for incidental findings, unforeseen consequences for trade and regulatory authorities, privacy and cultural issues, data sharing, and appropriate reporting of results to end-users. These issues will require consideration and discussion across a range of disciplines, with inclusion of scientists, ethicists, clinicians, diagnosticians, health practitioners, and ultimately the public. Here, we provide a primer for consideration on some of these issues.
Keywords: biomarkers; data interpretation; diagnostic tools; ethics; incidental findings; medical; metagenomics; viral metagenomics.