|A five-tier metagenome classification system would enable genomic researchers to better extract and understand data. (Image from Ivanova et al. Env Microbiol. 2010: 12(7):1803-1805.)
Studying the genomes of microbial communities, or metagenomics, has been facilitated in the last few years by advances in sequencing technologies. However, as the DOE JGI’s Natalia Ivanova, Susannah Tringe, Dino Liolios and Nikos Kyrpides point out in the July 2010 issue of the journal Environmental Microbiology, the sheer number of data sets generated makes it difficult for researchers to track and access data.
“For example,” Ivanova and her colleagues noted in their paper, “if you were looking for metagenomes from organisms in the digestive tracts of various animals, they might be named gut but could also be ‘rumen’, ‘forestomach’, ‘cecum’ or ‘fecal’.” The solution, they added, is to develop and implement a metagenome classification system.
The current system only distinguishes between environmental or host-associated projects; Ivanova and her colleagues propose a five-tier system that starts with the same broad terms listed above and then goes on to narrower ecosystem definitions such as “category”, “type”, “subtype” and “specific ecosystem.” By capturing these additional details through the added levels of information, the team noted, metagenomics researchers would be able to conduct comparative analyses more efficiently, as well as better access the metagenomic data sets of interest.