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Microbiome. 2015 May 20;3:22. doi: 10.1186/s40168-015-0086-5. eCollection 2015.

Strong spurious transcription likely contributes to DNA insert bias in typical metagenomic clone libraries.

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Department of Biology, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, ON Canada.



Clone libraries provide researchers with a powerful resource to study nucleic acid from diverse sources. Metagenomic clone libraries in particular have aided in studies of microbial biodiversity and function, and allowed the mining of novel enzymes. Libraries are often constructed by cloning large inserts into cosmid or fosmid vectors. Recently, there have been reports of GC bias in fosmid metagenomic libraries, and it was speculated to be a result of fragmentation and loss of AT-rich sequences during cloning. However, evidence in the literature suggests that transcriptional activity or gene product toxicity may play a role.


To explore possible mechanisms responsible for sequence bias in clone libraries, we constructed a cosmid library from a human microbiome sample and sequenced DNA from different steps during library construction: crude extract DNA, size-selected DNA, and cosmid library DNA. We confirmed a GC bias in the final cosmid library, and we provide evidence that the bias is not due to fragmentation and loss of AT-rich sequences but is likely occurring after DNA is introduced into Escherichia coli. To investigate the influence of strong constitutive transcription, we searched the sequence data for promoters and found that rpoD/σ(70) promoter sequences were underrepresented in the cosmid library. Furthermore, when we examined the genomes of taxa that were differentially abundant in the cosmid library relative to the original sample, we found the bias to be more correlated with the number of rpoD/σ(70) consensus sequences in the genome than with simple GC content.


The GC bias of metagenomic libraries does not appear to be due to DNA fragmentation. Rather, analysis of promoter sequences provides support for the hypothesis that strong constitutive transcription from sequences recognized as rpoD/σ(70) consensus-like in E. coli may lead to instability, causing loss of the plasmid or loss of the insert DNA that gives rise to the transcription. Despite widespread use of E. coli to propagate foreign DNA in metagenomic libraries, the effects of in vivo transcriptional activity on clone stability are not well understood. Further work is required to tease apart the effects of transcription from those of gene product toxicity.


Cloning bias; Cosmid; E. coli host; Fosmid; GC bias; Metagenomic libraries; Metagenomics; Sigma 70; Spurious transcription

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