MBio 8(1) (Feb 21 2017)
In this study, strain-resolved metagenomics was used to solve a mystery. A 6.4-Mbp complete closed genome was recovered from a soil metagenome and found to be astonishingly similar to that of Delftia acidovorans SPH-1, which was isolated in Germany a decade ago. It was suspected that this organism was not native to the soil sample because it lacked the diversity that is characteristic of other soil organisms; this suspicion was confirmed when PCR testing failed to detect the bacterium in the original soil samples. D. acidovorans was also identified in 16 previously published metagenomes from multiple environments, but detailed-scale single nucleotide polymorphism analysis grouped these into five distinct clades. All of the strains indicated as contaminants fell into one clade. Fragment length anomalies were identified in paired reads mapping to the contaminant clade genotypes only. This finding was used to establish that the DNA was present in specific size selection reagents used during sequencing. Ultimately, the source of the contaminant was identified as bacterial biofilms growing in tubing. On the basis of direct measurement of the rate of fixation of mutations across the period of time in which contamination was occurring, we estimated the time of separation of the contaminant strain from the genomically sequenced ancestral population within a factor of 2. This research serves as a case study of high-resolution microbial forensics and strain tracking accomplished through metagenomics-based comparative genomics. The specific case reported here is unusual in that the study was conducted in the background of a soil metagenome and the conclusions were confirmed by independent methods.IMPORTANCE It is often important to determine the source of a microbial strain. Examples include tracking a bacterium linked to a disease epidemic, contaminating the food supply, or used in bioterrorism. Strain identification and tracking are generally approached by using cultivation-based or relatively nonspecific gene fingerprinting methods. Genomic methods have the ability to distinguish strains, but this approach typically has been restricted to isolates or relatively low-complexity communities. We demonstrate that strain-resolved metagenomics can be applied to extremely complex soil samples. We genotypically defined a soil-associated bacterium and identified it as a contaminant. By linking together snapshots of the bacterial genome over time, it was possible to estimate how long the contaminant had been diverging from a likely source population. The results are congruent with the derivation of the bacterium from a strain isolated in Germany and sequenced a decade ago and highlight the utility of metagenomics in strain tracking.