Assembly methods for nanopore-based metagenomic sequencing: a comparative study

Metagenomic sequencing has lead to the recovery of previously unexplored microbial genomes. In this sense, short-reads sequencing platforms often result in highly fragmented metagenomes, thus complicating downstream analyses. Third generation sequencing technologies, such as MinION, could lead to more contiguous assemblies due to their ability to generate long reads. Nevertheless, there is a lack of studies evaluating the suitability of the available assembly tools for this new type of data.

We benchmarked the ability of different short-reads and long-reads tools to assembly two different commercially available mock communities, and observed remarkable differences in the resulting assemblies depending on the software of choice. Short-reads metagenomic assemblers proved unsuitable for MinION data. Among the long-reads assemblers tested, Flye and Canu were the only ones performing well in all the datasets. These tools were able to retrieve complete individual genomes directly from the metagenome, and assembled a bacterial genome in only two contigs in the best scenario. Despite the intrinsic high error of long-reads technologies, Canu and Flye lead to high accurate assemblies (~99.4-99.8 % of accuracy). However, errors still had an impact on the prediction of biosynthetic gene clusters.

MinION metagenomic sequencing data proved sufficient for assembling low-complex microbial communities, leading to the recovery of highly complete and contiguous individual genomes. This work is the first systematic evaluation of the performance of different assembly tools on MinION data, and may help other researchers willing to use this technology to choose the most appropriate software depending on their goals. Future work is still needed in order to assess the performance of Oxford Nanopore MinION data on more complex microbiomes.

Authors: Adriel Latorre-Perez, Pascual Villalba-Bermell, Javier Pascual, Manuel Porcar, Cristina Vilanova