Microbial genes encode the majority of the functional repertoire of life on earth. However, despite increasing efforts in metagenomic sequencing of various habitats1-3, little is known about the distribution of genes across the global biosphere, with implications for human and planetary health. Here we constructed a non-redundant gene catalogue of 303 million species-level genes (clustered at 95% nucleotide identity) from 13,174 publicly available metagenomes across 14 major habitats and use it to show that most genes are specific to a single habitat. The small fraction of genes found in multiple habitats is enriched in antibiotic-resistance genes and markers for mobile genetic elements. By further clustering these species-level genes into 32 million protein families, we observed that a small fraction of these families contain the majority of the genes (0.6% of families account for 50% of the genes). The majority of species-level genes and protein families are rare. Furthermore, species-level genes, and in particular the rare ones, show low rates of positive (adaptive) selection, supporting a model in which most genetic variability observed within each protein family is neutral or nearly neutral.
© 2021. The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited.