Critical steps in clinical shotgun metagenomics for the concomitant detection and typing of microbial pathogens

Sci Rep. 2018 Sep 13;8(1):13767. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-31873-w.


High throughput sequencing has been proposed as a one-stop solution for diagnostics and molecular typing directly from patient samples, allowing timely and appropriate implementation of measures for treatment, infection prevention and control. However, it is unclear how the variety of available methods impacts the end results. We applied shotgun metagenomics on diverse types of patient samples using three different methods to deplete human DNA prior to DNA extraction. Libraries were prepared and sequenced with Illumina chemistry. Data was analyzed using methods likely to be available in clinical microbiology laboratories using genomics. The results of microbial identification were compared to standard culture-based microbiological methods. On average, 75% of the reads corresponded to human DNA, being a major determinant in the analysis outcome. None of the kits was clearly superior suggesting that the initial ratio between host and microbial DNA or other sample characteristics were the major determinants of the proportion of microbial reads. Most pathogens identified by culture were also identified through metagenomics, but substantial differences were noted between the taxonomic classification tools. In two cases the high number of human reads resulted in insufficient sequencing depth of bacterial DNA for identification. In three samples, we could infer the probable multilocus sequence type of the most abundant species. The tools and databases used for taxonomic classification and antimicrobial resistance identification had a key impact on the results, recommending that efforts need to be aimed at standardization of the analysis methods if metagenomics is to be used routinely in clinical microbiology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / classification*
  • Bacteria / genetics*
  • Body Fluids / microbiology
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics*
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial / genetics
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing / methods*
  • Humans
  • Metagenomics / methods*
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests
  • Molecular Typing / methods*
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA


  • DNA, Bacterial
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S