Shotgun metagenomics and computational analysis are used to compare the taxonomic and functional profiles of microbial communities. Leveraging this approach to understand roles of microbes in human biology and other environments requires quantitative data summaries whose values are comparable across samples and studies. Comparability is currently hampered by the use of abundance statistics that do not estimate a meaningful parameter of the microbial community and biases introduced by experimental protocols and data-cleaning approaches. Addressing these challenges, along with improving study design, data access, metadata standardization, and analysis tools, will enable accurate comparative metagenomics. We envision a future in which microbiome studies are replicable and new metagenomes are easily and rapidly integrated with existing data. Only then can the potential of metagenomics for predictive ecological modeling, well-powered association studies, and effective microbiome medicine be fully realized.
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