A long-standing challenge in human microbiome research is achieving the taxonomic and functional resolution needed to generate testable hypotheses about the gut microbiota's impact on health and disease. With a growing number of live microbial interventions in clinical development, this challenge is renewed by a need to understand the pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of therapeutic candidates. While short-read sequencing of the bacterial 16S rRNA gene has been the standard for microbiota profiling, recent improvements in the fidelity of long-read sequencing underscores the need for a re-evaluation of the value of distinct microbiome-sequencing approaches. We leveraged samples from participants enrolled in a phase 1b clinical trial of a novel live biotherapeutic product to perform a comparative analysis of short-read and long-read amplicon and metagenomic sequencing approaches to assess their utility for generating clinical microbiome data. Across all methods, overall community taxonomic profiles were comparable and relationships between samples were conserved. Comparison of ubiquitous short-read 16S rRNA amplicon profiling to long-read profiling of the 16S-ITS-23S rRNA amplicon showed that only the latter provided strain-level community resolution and insight into novel taxa. All methods identified an active ingredient strain in treated study participants, though detection confidence was higher for long-read methods. Read coverage from both metagenomic methods provided evidence of active-ingredient strain replication in some treated participants. Compared to short-read metagenomics, approximately twice the proportion of long reads were assigned functional annotations. Finally, compositionally similar bacterial metagenome-assembled genomes (MAGs) were recovered from short-read and long-read metagenomic methods, although a greater number and more complete MAGs were recovered from long reads. Despite higher costs, both amplicon and metagenomic long-read approaches yielded added microbiome data value in the form of higher confidence taxonomic and functional resolution and improved recovery of microbial genomes compared to traditional short-read methodologies.
Journal: Microbial Genomics