Terabase-Scale Coassembly of a Tropical Soil Microbiome

Microbiol Spectr. 2023 Aug 17;11(4):e0020023. doi: 10.1128/spectrum.00200-23. Epub 2023 Jun 13.


Petabases of environmental metagenomic data are publicly available, presenting an opportunity to characterize complex environments and discover novel lineages of life. Metagenome coassembly, in which many metagenomic samples from an environment are simultaneously analyzed to infer the underlying genomes' sequences, is an essential tool for achieving this goal. We applied MetaHipMer2, a distributed metagenome assembler that runs on supercomputing clusters, to coassemble 3.4 terabases (Tbp) of metagenome data from a tropical soil in the Luquillo Experimental Forest (LEF), Puerto Rico. The resulting coassembly yielded 39 high-quality (>90% complete, <5% contaminated, with predicted 23S, 16S, and 5S rRNA genes and ≥18 tRNAs) metagenome-assembled genomes (MAGs), including two from the candidate phylum Eremiobacterota. Another 268 medium-quality (≥50% complete, <10% contaminated) MAGs were extracted, including the candidate phyla Dependentiae, Dormibacterota, and Methylomirabilota. In total, 307 medium- or higher-quality MAGs were assigned to 23 phyla, compared to 294 MAGs assigned to nine phyla in the same samples individually assembled. The low-quality (<50% complete, <10% contaminated) MAGs from the coassembly revealed a 49% complete rare biosphere microbe from the candidate phylum FCPU426 among other low-abundance microbes, an 81% complete fungal genome from the phylum Ascomycota, and 30 partial eukaryotic MAGs with ≥10% completeness, possibly representing protist lineages. A total of 22,254 viruses, many of them low abundance, were identified. Estimation of metagenome coverage and diversity indicates that we may have characterized ≥87.5% of the sequence diversity in this humid tropical soil and indicates the value of future terabase-scale sequencing and coassembly of complex environments. IMPORTANCE Petabases of reads are being produced by environmental metagenome sequencing. An essential step in analyzing these data is metagenome assembly, the computational reconstruction of genome sequences from microbial communities. "Coassembly" of metagenomic sequence data, in which multiple samples are assembled together, enables more complete detection of microbial genomes in an environment than "multiassembly," in which samples are assembled individually. To demonstrate the potential for coassembling terabases of metagenome data to drive biological discovery, we applied MetaHipMer2, a distributed metagenome assembler that runs on supercomputing clusters, to coassemble 3.4 Tbp of reads from a humid tropical soil environment. The resulting coassembly, its functional annotation, and analysis are presented here. The coassembly yielded more, and phylogenetically more diverse, microbial, eukaryotic, and viral genomes than the multiassembly of the same data. Our resource may facilitate the discovery of novel microbial biology in tropical soils and demonstrates the value of terabase-scale metagenome sequencing.

Keywords: metagenomics; rare biosphere; redox; terabase; tropical soil.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Genome, Viral
  • Metagenome
  • Metagenomics / methods
  • Microbiota* / genetics
  • Soil*


  • Soil