Inter-niche and inter-individual variation in gut microbial community assessment using stool, rectal swab, and mucosal samples

Sci Rep. 2018 Mar 7;8(1):4139. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-22408-4.


The purpose of this study is to evaluate similarities and differences in gut bacterial measurements and stability in the microbial communities of three different types of samples that could be used to assess different niches of the gut microbiome: rectal swab, stool, and normal rectal mucosa samples. In swab-stool comparisons, there were substantial taxa differences with some taxa varying largely by sample type (e.g. Thermaceae), inter-individual subject variation (e.g. Desulfovibrionaceae), or by both sample type and participant (e.g. Enterobacteriaceae). Comparing all three sample types with whole-genome metagenome shotgun sequencing, swab samples were much closer to stool samples than mucosa samples although all KEGG functional Level 1 and Level 2 pathways were significantly different across all sample types (e.g. transcription and environmental adaptation). However, the individual signature of participants was also observed and was largely stable between two time points. Thus, we found that while the distribution of some taxa was associated with these different sampling techniques, other taxa largely reflected individual differences in the microbial community that were insensitive to sampling technique. There is substantial variability in the assessment of the gut microbial community according to the type of sample.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Bacteria / classification*
  • Bacteria / genetics*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Mucosa / microbiology*
  • Male
  • Metagenome*
  • Middle Aged