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Sci Rep. 2016 Sep 29;6:34362. doi: 10.1038/srep34362.

Single sample resolution of rare microbial dark matter in a marine invertebrate metagenome.

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Division of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin 53705, U.S.A.
Department of Chemical and Life Science Engineering, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia 23284, U.S.A.
Department of Biology, Randolph-Macon College, Ashland, Virginia 23005, U.S.A.


Direct, untargeted sequencing of environmental samples (metagenomics) and de novo genome assembly enable the study of uncultured and phylogenetically divergent organisms. However, separating individual genomes from a mixed community has often relied on the differential-coverage analysis of multiple, deeply sequenced samples. In the metagenomic investigation of the marine bryozoan Bugula neritina, we uncovered seven bacterial genomes associated with a single B. neritina individual that appeared to be transient associates, two of which were unique to one individual and undetectable using certain "universal" 16S rRNA primers and probes. We recovered high quality genome assemblies for several rare instances of "microbial dark matter," or phylogenetically divergent bacteria lacking genomes in reference databases, from a single tissue sample that was not subjected to any physical or chemical pre-treatment. One of these rare, divergent organisms has a small (593 kbp), poorly annotated genome with low GC content (20.9%) and a 16S rRNA gene with just 65% sequence similarity to the closest reference sequence. Our findings illustrate the importance of sampling strategy and de novo assembly of metagenomic reads to understand the extent and function of bacterial biodiversity.

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