Does universal 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing of environmental communities provide an accurate description of nitrifying guilds?

Vaibhav Diwan, Hans-Jørgen Albrechtsen, Barth F. Smets, Arnaud Dechesne*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Universal (i.e., targeting most bacteria/prokaryotes) 16S rRNA gene based amplicon sequencing is widely used for assessing microbial communities due to its low cost, time efficiency, and ability to provide a full overview of the community. However, it is currently unclear if it can yield reliable information on specific microbial guilds, which can be obtained by using primer sets targeting functional genes or specific16S rRNA gene sequences. Here, we compared the relative abundance, diversity, richness, and composition of selected guilds (nitrifiers), obtained from universal 16S rRNA gene based amplicon sequencing and from guild targeted approaches. The universal amplicon sequencing provided 1) accurate estimates of nitrifier composition, 2) clustering of the samples based on these compositions consistent with sample origin, 3) estimates of the relative abundance of the guilds correlated with those obtained from the targeted approaches and within ~1.2 orders of magnitude of them, but with measurable bias that should be considered when comparing estimates from both approaches. In contrast, the diversity and richness estimations using the universal 16S rRNA based amplicon sequencing were likely limited by the sequencing depth; therefore, we suggest preferring targeted approaches for assessing nitrifiers diversity and richness or using sequencing depth larger than those currently typically practiced.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Microbiological Methods
Pages (from-to)28-34
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • AOB
  • Diversity
  • Drinking water treatment
  • Nitrifiers
  • Nitrospira
  • Wastewater treatment

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