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PLoS One. 2017 Oct 10;12(10):e0186161. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0186161. eCollection 2017.

Modified RNA-seq method for microbial community and diversity analysis using rRNA in different types of environmental samples.

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Ministry of Education Key Laboratory for Biodiversity Science and Ecological Engineering, School of Life Sciences, Fudan University, Shanghai, People's Republic of China.
Bioproducts Research Chair, Zoology Department, College of Science, King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Botany and Microbiology Department, Faculty of Science, Beni-Suef University, Beni-Suef, Egypt.


RNA-seq-based SSU (small subunit) rRNA (ribosomal RNA) analysis has provided a better understanding of potentially active microbial community within environments. However, for RNA-seq library construction, high quantities of purified RNA are typically required. We propose a modified RNA-seq method for SSU rRNA-based microbial community analysis that depends on the direct ligation of a 5' adaptor to RNA before reverse-transcription. The method requires only a low-input quantity of RNA (10-100 ng) and does not require a DNA removal step. The method was initially tested on three mock communities synthesized with enriched SSU rRNA of archaeal, bacterial and fungal isolates at different ratios, and was subsequently used for environmental samples of high or low biomass. For high-biomass salt-marsh sediments, enriched SSU rRNA and total nucleic acid-derived RNA-seq datasets revealed highly consistent community compositions for all of the SSU rRNA sequences, and as much as 46.4%-59.5% of 16S rRNA sequences were suitable for OTU (operational taxonomic unit)-based community and diversity analyses with complete coverage of V1-V2 regions. OTU-based community structures for the two datasets were also highly consistent with those determined by all of the 16S rRNA reads. For low-biomass samples, total nucleic acid-derived RNA-seq datasets were analyzed, and highly active bacterial taxa were also identified by the OTU-based method, notably including members of the previously underestimated genus Nitrospira and phylum Acidobacteria in tap water, members of the phylum Actinobacteria on a shower curtain, and members of the phylum Cyanobacteria on leaf surfaces. More than half of the bacterial 16S rRNA sequences covered the complete region of primer 8F, and non-coverage rates as high as 38.7% were obtained for phylum-unclassified sequences, providing many opportunities to identify novel bacterial taxa. This modified RNA-seq method will provide a better snapshot of diverse microbial communities, most notably by OTU-based analysis, even communities with low-biomass samples.

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