Analyses of the microbial diversity across the human microbiome
Li K, Bihan M, Yooseph S, Methé BA
Analysis of human body microbial diversity is fundamental to understanding community structure, biology and ecology. The National Institutes of Health Human Microbiome Project (HMP) has provided an unprecedented opportunity to examine microbial diversity within and across body habitats and individuals through pyrosequencing-based profiling of 16 S rRNA gene sequences (16 S) from habits of the oral, skin, distal gut, and vaginal body regions from over 200 healthy individuals enabling the application of statistical techniques. In this study, two approaches were applied to elucidate the nature and extent of human microbiome diversity. First, bootstrap and parametric curve fitting techniques were evaluated to estimate the maximum number of unique taxa, S(max), and taxa discovery rate for habitats across individuals. Next, our results demonstrated that the variation of diversity within low abundant taxa across habitats and individuals was not sufficiently quantified with standard ecological diversity indices. This impact from low abundant taxa motivated us to introduce a novel rank-based diversity measure, the Tail statistic, ("τ"), based on the standard deviation of the rank abundance curve if made symmetric by reflection around the most abundant taxon. Due to τ's greater sensitivity to low abundant taxa, its application to diversity estimation of taxonomic units using taxonomic dependent and independent methods revealed a greater range of values recovered between individuals versus body habitats, and different patterns of diversity within habitats. The greatest range of τ values within and across individuals was found in stool, which also exhibited the most undiscovered taxa. Oral and skin habitats revealed variable diversity patterns, while vaginal habitats were consistently the least diverse. Collectively, these results demonstrate the importance, and motivate the introduction, of several visualization and analysis methods tuned specifically for next-generation sequence data, further revealing that low abundant taxa serve as an important reservoir of genetic diversity in the human microbiome.