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08 Nov 2022
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Somatic mutation detection: a critical evaluation through simulations and reanalyses in oaks

How to best call the somatic mosaic tree?

Recommended by based on reviews by 2 anonymous reviewers

Any multicellular organism is a molecular mosaic with some somatic mutations accumulated between cell lineages. Big long-lived trees have nourished this imaginary of a somatic mosaic tree, from the observation of spectacular phenotypic mosaics and also because somatic mutations are expected to potentially be passed on to gametes in plants (review in Schoen and Schultz 2019). The lower cost of genome sequencing now offers the opportunity to tackle the issue and identify somatic mutations in trees.

However, when it comes to characterizing this somatic mosaic from genome sequences, things become much more difficult than one would think in the first place. What separates cell lineages ontogenetically, in cell division number, or in time? How to sample clonal cell populations? How do somatic mutations distribute in a population of cells in an organ or an organ sample? Should they be fixed heterozygotes in the sample of cells sequenced or be polymorphic? Do we indeed expect somatic mutations to be fixed? How should we identify and count somatic mutations?

To date, the detection of somatic mutations has mostly been done with a single variant caller in a given study, and we have little perspective on how different callers provide similar or different results. Some studies have used standard SNP callers that assumed a somatic mutation is fixed at the heterozygous state in the sample of cells, with an expected allele coverage ratio of 0.5, and less have used cancer callers, designed to detect mutations in a fraction of the cells in the sample. However, standard SNP callers detect mutations that deviate from a balanced allelic coverage, and different cancer callers can have different characteristics that should affect their outcomes.

In order to tackle these issues, Schmitt et al. (2022) conducted an extensive simulation analysis to compare different variant callers. Then, they reanalyzed two large published datasets on pedunculate oak, Quercus robur.  The analysis of in silico somatic mutations allowed the authors to evaluate the performance of different variant callers as a function of the allelic fraction of somatic mutations and the sequencing depth. They found one of the seven callers to provide better and more robust calls for a broad set of allelic fractions and sequencing depths. The reanalysis of published datasets in oaks with the most effective cancer caller of the in silico analysis allowed them to identify numerous low-frequency mutations that were missed in the original studies.

I recommend the study of Schmitt et al. (2022) first because it shows the benefit of using cancer callers in the study of somatic mutations, whatever the allelic fraction you are interested in at the end. You can select fixed heterozygotes if this is your ultimate target, but cancer callers allow you to have in addition a valuable overview of the allelic fractions of somatic mutations in your sample, and most do as well as SNP callers for fixed heterozygous mutations. In addition, Schmitt et al. (2022) provide the pipelines that allow investigating in silico data that should correspond to a given study design, encouraging to compare different variant callers rather than arbitrarily going with only one. We can anticipate that the study of somatic mutations in non-model species will increasingly attract attention now that multiple tissues of the same individual can be sequenced at low cost, and the study of Schmitt et al. (2022) paves the way for questioning and choosing the best variant caller for the question one wants to address.


Schoen DJ, Schultz ST (2019) Somatic Mutation and Evolution in Plants. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, 50, 49–73.

Schmitt S, Leroy T, Heuertz M, Tysklind N (2022) Somatic mutation detection: a critical evaluation through simulations and reanalyses in oaks. bioRxiv, 2021.10.11.462798. ver. 4 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Genomics.

Somatic mutation detection: a critical evaluation through simulations and reanalyses in oaksSylvain Schmitt, Thibault Leroy, Myriam Heuertz, Niklas Tysklind<p style="text-align: justify;">1. Mutation, the source of genetic diversity, is the raw material of evolution; however, the mutation process remains understudied, especially in plants. Using both a simulation and reanalysis framework, we set out ...Bioinformatics, PlantsNicolas BierneAnonymous, Anonymous2022-04-28 13:24:19 View
20 Nov 2023
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Building a Portuguese Coalition for Biodiversity Genomics

The Portuguese genomics community teams up with iconic species to understand the destruction of biodiversity

Recommended by based on reviews by Svein-Ole Mikalsen and 1 anonymous reviewer

This manuscript describes the ongoing work and plans of Biogenome Portugal: a new network of researchers in the Portuguese biodiversity genomics community. The aims of this network are to jointly train scientists in ecology and evolution, generate new knowledge and understanding of Portuguese biodiversity, and better engage with the public and with international researchers, so as to advance conservation efforts in the region. In collaboration across disciplines and institutions, they are also contributing to the European Reference Genome Atlas (ERGA): a massive scientific effort, seeking to eventually produce reference-quality genomes for all species in the European continent (Mc Cartney et al. 2023).

The manuscript centers around six iconic and/or severely threatened species, whose range extends across parts of what is today considered Portuguese territory. Via the Portugal chapter of ERGA (ERGA-Portugal), the researchers will generate high-quality genome sequences from these species. The species are the Iberian hare, the Azores laurel, the Black wheatear, the Portuguese crowberry, the Cave ground beetle and the Iberian minnowcarp. In ignorance of human-made political borders, some of these species also occupy large parts of the rest of the Iberian peninsula, highlighting the importance of transnational collaboration in biodiversity efforts. The researchers extracted samples from members of each of these species, and are building reference genome sequences from them. In some cases, these sequences will also be co-analyzed with additional population genomic data from the same species or genetic data from cohabiting species. The researchers aim to answer a variety of ecological and evolutionary questions using this information, including how genetic diversity is being affected by the destruction of their habitat, and how they are being forced to adapt as a consequence of the climate emergency.

The authors did a very good job in providing a justification for the choice of pilot species, a thorough methodological overview of current work, and well thought-out plans for future analyses once the genome sequences are available for study. The authors also describe plans for networking and training activities to foster a well-connected Portuguese biodiversity genomics community.

Applying a genomic analysis lens is important for understanding the ever faster process of devastation of our natural world. Governments and corporations around the globe are destroying nature at ever larger scales (Diaz et al. 2019). They are also destabilizing the climatic conditions on which life has existed for thousands of years (Trisos et al. 2020). Thus, genetic diversity is decreasing faster than ever in human history, even when it comes to non-threatened species (Exposito-Alonso et al. 2022), and these decreases are disrupting ecological processes worldwide (Richardson et al. 2023). This, in turn, is threatening the conditions on which the stability of our societies rest (Gardner and Bullock 2021). The efforts of Biogenome Portal and ERGA-Portugal will go a long way in helping us understand in greater detail how this process is unfolding in Portuguese territories.




Díaz, Sandra, et al. "Pervasive human-driven decline of life on Earth points to the need for transformative change." Science 366.6471 (2019): eaax3100.

Exposito-Alonso, Moises, et al. "Genetic diversity loss in the Anthropocene." Science 377.6613 (2022): 1431-1435.

Gardner, Charlie J., and James M. Bullock. "In the climate emergency, conservation must become survival ecology." Frontiers in Conservation Science 2 (2021): 659912.

Mc Cartney, Ann M., et al. "The European Reference Genome Atlas: piloting a decentralised approach to equitable biodiversity genomics." bioRxiv (2023): 2023-09, ver. 2 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Genomics.

Richardson, Katherine, et al. "Earth beyond six of nine planetary boundaries." Science Advances 9.37 (2023): eadh2458.

Trisos, Christopher H., Cory Merow, and Alex L. Pigot. "The projected timing of abrupt ecological disruption from climate change." Nature 580.7804 (2020): 496-501.

Building a Portuguese Coalition for Biodiversity GenomicsJoão Pedro Marques, Paulo Célio Alves, Isabel R. Amorim, Ricardo J. Lopes, Mónica Moura, Gene Meyers, Manuela Sim-Sim, Carla Sousa-Santos, Maria Judite Alves, Paulo AV Borges, Thomas Brown, Miguel Carneiro, Carlos Carrapato, Luís Ceríaco, Claudio ...<p style="text-align: justify;">The diverse physiography of the Portuguese land and marine territory, spanning from continental Europe to the Atlantic archipelagos, has made it an important repository of biodiversity throughout the Pleistocene gla...ERGA, ERGA PilotFernando Racimo2023-07-14 11:24:22 View
10 Jul 2023
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SNP discovery by exome capture and resequencing in a pea genetic resource collection

The value of a large Pisum SNP dataset

Recommended by based on reviews by Rui Borges and 1 anonymous reviewer

One important goal of modern genetics is to establish functional associations between genotype and phenotype. Single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) are numerous and widely distributed in the genome and can be obtained from nucleic acid sequencing (1). SNPs allow for the investigation of genetic diversity, which is critical for increasing crop resilience to the challenges posed by global climate change. The associations between SNPs and phenotypes can be captured in genome-wide association studies. SNPs can also be used in combination with machine learning, which is becoming more popular for predicting complex phenotypic traits like yield and biotic and abiotic stress tolerance from genotypic data (2). The availability of many SNP datasets is important in machine learning predictions because this approach requires big data to build a comprehensive model of the association between genotype and phenotype.

Aubert and colleagues have studied, as part of the PeaMUST project, the genetic diversity of 240 Pisum accessions (3). They sequenced exome-enriched genomic libraries, a technique that enables the identification of high-density, high-quality SNPs at a low cost (4). This technique involves capturing and sequencing only the exonic regions of the genome, which are the protein-coding regions. A total of 2,285,342 SNPs were obtained in this study. The analysis of these SNPs with the annotations of the genome sequence of one of the studied pea accessions (5) identified a number of SNPs that could have an impact on gene activity. Additional analyses revealed 647,220 SNPs that were unique to individual pea accessions, which might contribute to the fitness and diversity of accessions in different habitats. Phylogenetic and clustering analyses demonstrated that the SNPs could distinguish Pisum germplasms based on their agronomic and evolutionary histories. These results point out the power of selected SNPs as markers for identifying Pisum individuals.

Overall, this study found high-quality SNPs that are meaningful in a biological context. This dataset was derived from a large set of germplasm and is thus particularly useful for studying genotype-phenotype associations, as well as the diversity within Pisum species. These SNPs could also be used in breeding programs to develop new pea varieties that are resilient to abiotic and biotic stressors.  


1.         Fallah M, Jean M, Boucher St-Amour VT, O’Donoughue L, Belzile F. The construction of a high-density consensus genetic map for soybean based on SNP markers derived from genotyping-by-sequencing. Genome. 2022 Aug;65(8):413–25.

2.         Gill M, Anderson R, Hu H, Bennamoun M, Petereit J, Valliyodan B, et al. Machine learning models outperform deep learning models, provide interpretation and facilitate feature selection for soybean trait prediction. BMC Plant Biology. 2022 Apr 8;22(1):180.

3.         Aubert G, Kreplak J, Leveugle M, Duborjal H, Klein A, Boucherot K, et al. SNP discovery by exome capture and resequencing in a pea genetic resource collection., biorxiv, ver. 4, peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Genomics. 

4.         Warr A, Robert C, Hume D, Archibald A, Deeb N, Watson M. Exome sequencing: current and future perspectives. G3 Genes|Genomes|Genetics. 2015 Aug 1;5(8):1543–50.

5.         Kreplak J, Madoui MA, Cápal P, Novák P, Labadie K, Aubert G, et al. A reference genome for pea provides insight into legume genome evolution. Nat Genet. 2019 Sep;51(9):1411–22.

SNP discovery by exome capture and resequencing in a pea genetic resource collectionG. Aubert, J. Kreplak, M. Leveugle, H. Duborjal, A. Klein, K. Boucherot, E. Vieille, M. Chabert-Martinello, C. Cruaud, V. Bourion, I. Lejeune-Hénaut, M.L. Pilet-Nayel, Y. Bouchenak-Khelladi, N. Francillonne, N. Tayeh, J.P. Pichon, N. Rivière, J. B...<p style="text-align: justify;"><strong>Background &amp; Summary</strong></p> <p style="text-align: justify;">In addition to being the model plant used by Mendel to establish genetic laws, pea (<em>Pisum sativum</em> L., 2n=14) is a major pulse c...Plants, Population genomicsWanapinun Nawae2022-11-29 09:29:06 View
16 Dec 2022
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Toeholder: a Software for Automated Design and In Silico Validation of Toehold Riboswitches

A novel approach for engineering biological systems by interfacing computer science with synthetic biology

Recommended by based on reviews by Wim Wranken and 1 anonymous reviewer

Biological systems depend on finely tuned interactions of their components. Thus, regulating these components is critical for the system's functionality. In prokaryotic cells, riboswitches are regulatory elements controlling transcription or translation. Riboswitches are RNA molecules that are usually located in the 5′-untranslated region of protein-coding genes. They generate secondary structures leading to the regulation of the expression of the downstream protein-coding gene (Kavita and Breaker, 2022). Riboswitches are very versatile and can bind a wide range of small molecules; in many cases, these are metabolic byproducts from the gene’s enzymatic or signaling pathway. Their versatility and abundance in many species make them attractive for synthetic biological circuits. One class that has been drawing the attention of synthetic biologists is toehold switches (Ekdahl et al., 2022; Green et al., 2014). These are single-stranded RNA molecules harboring the necessary elements for translation initiation of the downstream gene: a ribosome-binding site and a start codon. Conformation change of toehold switches is triggered by an RNA molecule, which enables translation.

To exploit the most out of toehold switches, automation of their design would be highly advantageous. Cisneros and colleagues (Cisneros et al., 2022) developed a tool, “Toeholder”, that automates the design of toehold switches and performs in silico tests to select switch candidates for a target gene. Toeholder is an open-source tool that provides a comprehensive and automated workflow for the design of toehold switches. While web tools have been developed for designing toehold switches (To et al., 2018), Toeholder represents an intriguing approach to engineering biological systems by coupling synthetic biology with computational biology. Using molecular dynamics simulations, it identified the positions in the toehold switch where hydrogen bonds fluctuate the most. Identifying these regions holds great potential for modifications when refining the design of the riboswitches. To be effective, toehold switches should provide a strong ON signal and a weak OFF signal in the presence or the absence of a target, respectively. Toeholder nicely ranks the candidate toehold switches based on experimental evidence that correlates with toehold performance (based on good ON/OFF ratios).

Riboswitches are highly appealing for a broad range of applications, including pharmaceutical and medical purposes (Blount and Breaker, 2006; Giarimoglou et al., 2022; Tickner and Farzan, 2021), thanks to their adaptability and inexpensiveness. The Toeholder tool developed by Cisneros and colleagues is expected to promote the implementation of toehold switches into these various applications.


Blount KF, Breaker RR (2006) Riboswitches as antibacterial drug targets. Nature Biotechnology, 24, 1558–1564.

Cisneros AF, Rouleau FD, Bautista C, Lemieux P, Dumont-Leblond N, ULaval 2019 T iGEM (2022) Toeholder: a Software for Automated Design and In Silico Validation of Toehold Riboswitches. bioRxiv, 2021.11.09.467922, ver. 3 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Genomics.

Ekdahl AM, Rojano-Nisimura AM, Contreras LM (2022) Engineering Toehold-Mediated Switches for Native RNA Detection and Regulation in Bacteria. Journal of Molecular Biology, 434, 167689.

Giarimoglou N, Kouvela A, Maniatis A, Papakyriakou A, Zhang J, Stamatopoulou V, Stathopoulos C (2022) A Riboswitch-Driven Era of New Antibacterials. Antibiotics, 11, 1243.

Green AA, Silver PA, Collins JJ, Yin P (2014) Toehold Switches: De-Novo-Designed Regulators of Gene Expression. Cell, 159, 925–939.

Kavita K, Breaker RR (2022) Discovering riboswitches: the past and the future. Trends in Biochemical Sciences.

Tickner ZJ, Farzan M (2021) Riboswitches for Controlled Expression of Therapeutic Transgenes Delivered by Adeno-Associated Viral Vectors. Pharmaceuticals, 14, 554.

To AC-Y, Chu DH-T, Wang AR, Li FC-Y, Chiu AW-O, Gao DY, Choi CHJ, Kong S-K, Chan T-F, Chan K-M, Yip KY (2018) A comprehensive web tool for toehold switch design. Bioinformatics, 34, 2862–2864.

Toeholder: a Software for Automated Design and In Silico Validation of Toehold RiboswitchesAngel F. Cisneros, François D. Rouleau, Carla Bautista, Pascale Lemieux, Nathan Dumont-Leblond<p>Abstract:&nbsp;Synthetic biology aims to engineer biological circuits, which often involve gene expression. A particularly promising group of regulatory elements are riboswitches because of their versatility with respect to their targets, but e...BioinformaticsSahar Melamed2022-02-16 14:40:13 View
02 Jun 2023
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Near-chromosome level genome assembly of devil firefish, Pterois miles

The genome of a dangerous invader (fish) beauty

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by Maria Recuerda and 1 anonymous reviewer

High-quality genomes are currently being generated at an unprecedented speed powered by long-read sequencing technologies. However, sequencing effort is concentrated unequally across the tree of life and several key evolutionary and ecological groups remain largely unexplored. So is the case for fish species of the family Scorpaenidae (Perciformes). Kitsoulis et al. present the genome of the devil firefish, Pterois miles (1). Following current best practices, the assembly relies largely on Oxford Nanopore long reads, aided by Illumina short reads for polishing to increase the per-base accuracy. PacBio’s IsoSeq was used to sequence RNA from a variety of tissues as direct evidence for annotating genes. The reconstructed genome is 902 Mb in size and has high contiguity (N50=14.5 Mb; 660 scaffolds, 90% of the genome covered by the 83 longest scaffolds) and completeness (98% BUSCO completeness). The new genome is used to assess the phylogenetic position of P. miles, explore gene synteny against zebrafish, look at orthogroup expansion and contraction patterns in Perciformes, as well as to investigate the evolution of toxins in scorpaenid fish (2). In addition to its value for better understanding the evolution of scorpaenid and teleost fishes, this new genome is also an important resource for monitoring its invasiveness through the Mediterranean Sea (3) and the Atlantic Ocean, in the latter case forming the invasive lionfish complex with P. volitans (4).


1. Kitsoulis CV, Papadogiannis V, Kristoffersen JB, Kaitetzidou E, Sterioti E, Tsigenopoulos CS, Manousaki T. (2023) Near-chromosome level genome assembly of devil firefish, Pterois miles. BioRxiv, ver. 6 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Genomics.

2. Kiriake A, Shiomi K. (2011) Some properties and cDNA cloning of proteinaceous toxins from two species of lionfish (Pterois antennata and Pterois volitans). Toxicon, 58(6-7):494–501.

3. Katsanevakis S, et al. (2020) Un- published Mediterranean records of marine alien and cryptogenic species. BioInvasions Records, 9:165–182.

4. Lyons TJ, Tuckett QM, Hill JE. (2019) Data quality and quantity for invasive species: A case study of the lionfishes. Fish and Fisheries, 20:748–759.

Near-chromosome level genome assembly of devil firefish, *Pterois miles*Christos V. Kitsoulis, Vasileios Papadogiannis, Jon B. Kristoffersen, Elisavet Kaitetzidou, Aspasia Sterioti, Costas S. Tsigenopoulos, Tereza Manousaki<p style="text-align: justify;">Devil firefish (<em>Pterois miles</em>), a member of Scorpaenidae family, is one of the most successful marine non-native species, dominating around the world, that was rapidly spread into the Mediterranean Sea, thr...Evolutionary genomicsIker Irisarri2023-01-17 12:37:20 View
02 Apr 2021
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Semi-artificial datasets as a resource for validation of bioinformatics pipelines for plant virus detection

Toward a critical assessment of virus detection in plants

Recommended by based on reviews by Alexander Suh and 1 anonymous reviewer

The advent of High Throughput Sequencing (HTS) since the last decade has revealed previously unsuspected diversity of viruses as well as their (sometimes) unexpected presence in some healthy individuals. These results demonstrate that genomics offers a powerful tool for studying viruses at the individual level, allowing an in-depth inventory of those that are infecting an organism. Such approaches make it possible to study viromes with an unprecedented level of detail, both qualitative and quantitative, which opens new venues for analyses of viruses of humans, animals and plants. Consequently, the diagnostic field is using more and more HTS, fueling the need for efficient and reliable bioinformatics tools. 

Many such tools have already been developed, but in plant disease diagnostics, validation of the bioinformatics pipelines used for the detection of viruses in HTS datasets is still in its infancy. There is an urgent need for benchmarking the different tools and algorithms using well-designed reference datasets generated for this purpose. This is a crucial step to move forward and to improve existing solutions toward well-standardized bioinformatics protocols. This context has led to the creation of the Plant Health Bioinformatics Network (PHBN), a Euphresco network project aiming to build a bioinformatics community working on plant health. One of their objectives is to provide researchers with open-access reference datasets allowing to compare and validate virus detection pipelines. 

In this framework, Tamisier et al. [1] present real, semi-artificial, and completely artificial datasets, each aimed at addressing challenges that could affect virus detection. These datasets comprise real RNA-seq reads from virus-infected plants as well as simulated virus reads. Such a work, providing open-access datasets for benchmarking bioinformatics tools, should be encouraged as they are key to software improvement as demonstrated by the well-known success story of the protein structure prediction community: their pioneer community-wide effort, called Critical Assessment of protein Structure Prediction (CASP)[2], has been providing research groups since 1994 with an invaluable way to objectively test their structure prediction methods, thereby delivering an independent assessment of state-of-art protein-structure modelling tools. Following this success, many other bioinformatic community developed similar “competitions”, such as RNA-puzzles [3] to predict RNA structures, Critical Assessment of Function Annotation [4] to predict gene functions, Critical Assessment of Prediction of Interactions [5] to predict protein-protein interactions, Assemblathon [6] for genome assembly, etc. These are just a few examples from a long list of successful initiatives. Such efforts enable rigorous assessments of tools, stimulate the developers’ creativity, but also provide user communities with a state-of-art evaluation of available tools.

Inspired by these success stories, the authors propose a “VIROMOCK challenge” [7], asking researchers in the field to test their tools and to provide feedback on each dataset through a repository. This initiative, if well followed, will undoubtedly improve the field of virus detection in plants, but also probably in many other organisms. This will be a major contribution to the field of viruses, leading to better diagnostics and, consequently, a better understanding of viral diseases, thus participating in promoting human, animal and plant health.   


[1] Tamisier, L., Haegeman, A., Foucart, Y., Fouillien, N., Al Rwahnih, M., Buzkan, N., Candresse, T., Chiumenti, M., De Jonghe, K., Lefebvre, M., Margaria, P., Reynard, J.-S., Stevens, K., Kutnjak, D. and Massart, S. (2021) Semi-artificial datasets as a resource for validation of bioinformatics pipelines for plant virus detection. Zenodo, 4273791, version 4 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer community in Genomics. doi:

[2] Critical Assessment of protein Structure Prediction” (CASP) -

[3] RNA-puzzles -

[4] Critical Assessment of Function Annotation (CAFA) -

[5] Critical Assessment of Prediction of Interactions (CAPI) -

[6] Assemblathon -

[7] VIROMOCK challenge -

Semi-artificial datasets as a resource for validation of bioinformatics pipelines for plant virus detectionLucie Tamisier, Annelies Haegeman, Yoika Foucart, Nicolas Fouillien, Maher Al Rwahnih, Nihal Buzkan, Thierry Candresse, Michela Chiumenti, Kris De Jonghe, Marie Lefebvre, Paolo Margaria, Jean Sébastien Reynard, Kristian Stevens, Denis Kutnjak, Séb...<p>The widespread use of High-Throughput Sequencing (HTS) for detection of plant viruses and sequencing of plant virus genomes has led to the generation of large amounts of data and of bioinformatics challenges to process them. Many bioinformatics...Bioinformatics, Plants, Viruses and transposable elementsHadi Quesneville2020-11-27 14:31:47 View
05 May 2021
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A primer and discussion on DNA-based microbiome data and related bioinformatics analyses

A hitchhiker’s guide to DNA-based microbiome analysis

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by Nicolas Pollet, Rafael Cuadrat and 1 anonymous reviewer

In the last two decades, microbial research in its different fields has been increasingly focusing on microbiome studies. These are defined as studies of complete assemblages of microorganisms in given environments and have been benefiting from increases in sequencing length, quality, and yield, coupled with ever-dropping prices per sequenced nucleotide. Alongside localized microbiome studies, several global collaborative efforts have emerged, including the Human Microbiome Project [1], the Earth Microbiome Project [2], the Extreme Microbiome Project, and MetaSUB [3].

Coupled with the development of sequencing technologies and the ever-increasing amount of data output, multiple standalone or online bioinformatic tools have been designed to analyze these data. Often these tools have been focusing on either of two main tasks: 1) Community analysis, providing information on the organisms present in the microbiome, or 2) Functionality, in the case of shotgun metagenomic data, providing information on the metabolic potential of the microbiome. Bridging between the two types of data, often extracted from the same dataset, is typically a daunting task that has been addressed by a handful of tools only.

The extent of tools and approaches to analyze microbiome data is great and may be overwhelming to researchers new to microbiome or bioinformatic studies. In their paper “A primer and discussion on DNA-based microbiome data and related bioinformatics analyses”, Douglas and Langille [4] guide us through the different sequencing approaches useful for microbiome studies. alongside their advantages and caveats and a selection of tools to analyze these data, coupled with examples from their own field of research.

Standing out in their primer-style review is the emphasis on the coupling between taxonomic/phylogenetic identification of the organisms and their functionality. This type of analysis, though highly important to understand the role of different microorganisms in an environment as well as to identify potential functional redundancy, is often not conducted. For this, the authors identify two approaches. The first, using shotgun metagenomics, has higher chances of attributing a function to the correct taxon. The second, using amplicon sequencing of marker genes, allows for a deeper coverage of the microbiome at a lower cost, and extrapolates the amplicon data to close relatives with a sequenced genome. As clearly stated, this approach makes the leap between taxonomy and functionality and has been shown to be erroneous in cases where the core genome of the bacterial genus or family does not encompass the functional diversity of the different included species. This practice was already common before the genomic era, but its accuracy is improving thanks to the increasing availability of sequenced reference genomes from cultures, environmentally picked single cells or metagenome-assembled genome.

In addition to their description of standalone tools useful for linking taxonomy and functionality, one should mention the existence of online tools that may appeal to researchers who do not have access to adequate bioinformatics infrastructure. Among these are the Integrated Microbial Genomes and Microbiomes (IMG) from the Joint Genome Institute [5], KBase [6] and MG-RAST [7].

A second important point arising from this review is the need for standardization in microbiome data analyses and the complexity of achieving this. As Douglas and Langille [4] state, this has been previously addressed, highlighting the variability in results obtained with different tools. It is often the case that papers describing new bioinformatic tools display their superiority relative to existing alternatives, potentially misleading newcomers to the field that the newest tool is the best and only one to be used. This is often not the case, and while benchmarking against well-defined datasets serves as a powerful testing tool, “real-life” samples are often not comparable. Thus, as done here, future primer-like reviews should highlight possible cross-field caveats, encouraging researchers to employ and test several approaches and validate their results whenever possible.

In summary, Douglas and Langille [4] offer both the novice and experienced researcher a detailed guide along the paths of microbiome data analysis, accompanied by informative background information, suggested tools with which analyses can be started, and an insightful view on where the field should be heading.


[1]  Turnbaugh PJ, Ley RE, Hamady M, Fraser-Liggett CM, Knight R, Gordon JI (2007) The Human Microbiome Project. Nature, 449, 804–810.

[2]  Gilbert JA, Jansson JK, Knight R (2014) The Earth Microbiome project: successes and aspirations. BMC Biology, 12, 69.

[3]  Mason C, Afshinnekoo E, Ahsannudin S, Ghedin E, Read T, Fraser C, Dudley J, Hernandez M, Bowler C, Stolovitzky G, Chernonetz A, Gray A, Darling A, Burke C, Łabaj PP, Graf A, Noushmehr H, Moraes  s., Dias-Neto E, Ugalde J, Guo Y, Zhou Y, Xie Z, Zheng D, Zhou H, Shi L, Zhu S, Tang A, Ivanković T, Siam R, Rascovan N, Richard H, Lafontaine I, Baron C, Nedunuri N, Prithiviraj B, Hyat S, Mehr S, Banihashemi K, Segata N, Suzuki H, Alpuche Aranda CM, Martinez J, Christopher Dada A, Osuolale O, Oguntoyinbo F, Dybwad M, Oliveira M, Fernandes A, Oliveira M, Fernandes A, Chatziefthimiou AD, Chaker S, Alexeev D, Chuvelev D, Kurilshikov A, Schuster S, Siwo GH, Jang S, Seo SC, Hwang SH, Ossowski S, Bezdan D, Udekwu K, Udekwu K, Lungjdahl PO, Nikolayeva O, Sezerman U, Kelly F, Metrustry S, Elhaik E, Gonnet G, Schriml L, Mongodin E, Huttenhower C, Gilbert J, Hernandez M, Vayndorf E, Blaser M, Schadt E, Eisen J, Beitel C, Hirschberg D, Schriml L, Mongodin E, The MetaSUB International Consortium (2016) The Metagenomics and Metadesign of the Subways and Urban Biomes (MetaSUB) International Consortium inaugural meeting report. Microbiome, 4, 24.

[4]  Douglas GM, Langille MGI (2021) A primer and discussion on DNA-based microbiome data and related bioinformatics analyses. OSF Preprints, ver. 4 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community In Genomics.

[5]  Chen I-MA, Markowitz VM, Chu K, Palaniappan K, Szeto E, Pillay M, Ratner A, Huang J, Andersen E, Huntemann M, Varghese N, Hadjithomas M, Tennessen K, Nielsen T, Ivanova NN, Kyrpides NC (2017) IMG/M: integrated genome and metagenome comparative data analysis system. Nucleic Acids Research, 45, D507–D516.

[6]  Arkin AP, Cottingham RW, Henry CS, Harris NL, Stevens RL, Maslov S, Dehal P, Ware D, Perez F, Canon S, Sneddon MW, Henderson ML, Riehl WJ, Murphy-Olson D, Chan SY, Kamimura RT, Kumari S, Drake MM, Brettin TS, Glass EM, Chivian D, Gunter D, Weston DJ, Allen BH, Baumohl J, Best AA, Bowen B, Brenner SE, Bun CC, Chandonia J-M, Chia J-M, Colasanti R, Conrad N, Davis JJ, Davison BH, DeJongh M, Devoid S, Dietrich E, Dubchak I, Edirisinghe JN, Fang G, Faria JP, Frybarger PM, Gerlach W, Gerstein M, Greiner A, Gurtowski J, Haun HL, He F, Jain R, Joachimiak MP, Keegan KP, Kondo S, Kumar V, Land ML, Meyer F, Mills M, Novichkov PS, Oh T, Olsen GJ, Olson R, Parrello B, Pasternak S, Pearson E, Poon SS, Price GA, Ramakrishnan S, Ranjan P, Ronald PC, Schatz MC, Seaver SMD, Shukla M, Sutormin RA, Syed MH, Thomason J, Tintle NL, Wang D, Xia F, Yoo H, Yoo S, Yu D (2018) KBase: The United States Department of Energy Systems Biology Knowledgebase. Nature Biotechnology, 36, 566–569.

[7]  Wilke A, Bischof J, Gerlach W, Glass E, Harrison T, Keegan KP, Paczian T, Trimble WL, Bagchi S, Grama A, Chaterji S, Meyer F (2016) The MG-RAST metagenomics database and portal in 2015. Nucleic Acids Research, 44, D590–D594.

A primer and discussion on DNA-based microbiome data and related bioinformatics analysesGavin M. Douglas and Morgan G. I. Langille<p style="text-align: justify;">The past decade has seen an eruption of interest in profiling microbiomes through DNA sequencing. The resulting investigations have revealed myriad insights and attracted an influx of researchers to the research are...Bioinformatics, MetagenomicsDanny Ionescu2021-02-17 00:26:46 View
25 Nov 2022
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Phenotypic and transcriptomic analyses reveal major differences between apple and pear scab nonhost resistance

Apples and pears: two closely related species with differences in scab nonhost resistance

Recommended by based on reviews by 3 anonymous reviewers

Nonhost resistance is a common form of disease resistance exhibited by plants against microorganisms that are pathogenic to other plant species [1]. Apples and pears are two closely related species belonging to Rosaceae family, both affected by scab disease caused by fungal pathogens in the Venturia genus. These pathogens appear to be highly host-specific. While apples are nonhosts for Venturia pyrina, pears are nonhosts for Venturia inaequalis. To date, the molecular bases of scab nonhost resistance in apple and pear have not been elucidated.

This preprint by Vergne, et al (2022) [2] analyzed nonhost resistance symptoms in apple/V. pyrina and pear/V. inaequalis interactions as well as their transcriptomic responses. Interestingly, the author demonstrated that the nonhost apple/V. pyrina interaction was almost symptomless while hypersensitive reactions were observed for pear/V. inaequalis interaction. The transcriptomic analyses also revealed a number of differentially expressed genes (DEGs) that corresponded to the severity of the interactions, with very few DEGs observed during the apple/V. pyrina interaction and a much higher number of DEGs during the pear/V. inaequalis interaction.

This type of reciprocal host-pathogen interaction study is valuable in gaining new insights into how plants interact with microorganisms that are potential pathogens in related species. A few processes appeared to be involved in the pear resistance against the nonhost pathogen V. inaequalis at the transcriptomic level, such as stomata closure, modification of cell wall and production of secondary metabolites as well as phenylpropanoids. Based on the transcriptomics changes during the nonhost interaction, the author compared the responses to those of host-pathogen interactions and revealed some interesting findings. They proposed a series of cascading effects in pear induced by the presence of V. inaequalis, which I believe helps shed some light on the basic mechanism for nonhost resistance.

I am recommending this study because it provides valuable information that will strengthen our understanding of nonhost resistance in the Rosaceae family and other plant species. The knowledge gained here may be applied to genetically engineer plants for a broader resistance against a number of pathogens in the future.​


1. Senthil-Kumar M, Mysore KS (2013) Nonhost Resistance Against Bacterial Pathogens: Retrospectives and Prospects. Annual Review of Phytopathology, 51, 407–427.

2. Vergne E, Chevreau E, Ravon E, Gaillard S, Pelletier S, Bahut M, Perchepied L (2022) Phenotypic and transcriptomic analyses reveal major differences between apple and pear scab nonhost resistance. bioRxiv, 2021.06.01.446506, ver. 4 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Genomics.

Phenotypic and transcriptomic analyses reveal major differences between apple and pear scab nonhost resistanceE. Vergne, E. Chevreau, E. Ravon, S. Gaillard, S. Pelletier, M. Bahut, L. Perchepied<p style="text-align: justify;"><strong>Background. </strong>Nonhost resistance is the outcome of most plant/pathogen interactions, but it has rarely been described in Rosaceous fruit species. Apple (<em>Malus x domestica</em> Borkh.) have a nonho...Functional genomics, PlantsWirulda Pootakham Jessica Soyer, Anonymous2022-05-13 15:06:08 View
24 Jan 2024
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High quality genome assembly of the brown hare (Lepus europaeus) with chromosome-level scaffolding

A high quality reference genome of the brown hare

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by Merce Montoliu-Nerin and 1 anonymous reviewer

The brown hare, or European hare, Lupus europaeus, is a widespread mammal whose natural range spans western Eurasia. At the northern limit of its range, it hybridises with the mountain hare (L. timidis), and humans have introduced it into other continents. It represents a particularly interesting mammal to study for its population genetics, extensive hybridisation zones, and as an invasive species.

This study (Michell et al. 2024) has generated a high-quality assembly of a genome from a brown hare from Finland using long PacBio HiFi sequencing reads and Hi-C scaffolding. The contig N50 of this new genome is 43 Mb, and completeness, assessed using BUSCO, is 96.1%. The assembly comprises 23 autosomes, and an X chromosome and Y chromosome, with many chromosomes including telomeric repeats, indicating the high level of completeness of this assembly.

While the genome of the mountain hare has previously been assembled, its assembly was based on a short-read shotgun assembly, with the rabbit as a reference genome. The new high-quality brown hare genome assembly allows a direct comparison with the rabbit genome assembly. For example, the assembly addresses the karyotype difference between the hare (n=24) and the rabbit (n=22). Chromosomes 12 and 17 of the hare are equivalent to chromosome 1 of the rabbit, and chromosomes 13 and 16 of the hare are equivalent to chromosome 2 of the rabbit. The new assembly also provides a hare Y-chromosome, as the previous mountain hare genome was from a female.

This new genome assembly provides an important foundation for population genetics and evolutionary studies of lagomorphs.


Michell, C., Collins, J., Laine, P. K., Fekete, Z., Tapanainen, R., Wood, J. M. D., Goffart, S., Pohjoismäki, J. L. O. (2024). High quality genome assembly of the brown hare (Lepus europaeus) with chromosome-level scaffolding. bioRxiv, ver. 3 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Genomics.

High quality genome assembly of the brown hare (*Lepus europaeus*) with chromosome-level scaffoldingCraig Michell, Joanna Collins, Pia K. Laine, Zsofia Fekete, Riikka Tapanainen, Jonathan M. D. Wood, Steffi Goffart, Jaakko L. O. Pohjoismaki<p style="text-align: justify;">We present here a high-quality genome assembly of the brown hare (Lepus europaeus Pallas), based on a fibroblast cell line of a male specimen from Liperi, Eastern Finland. This brown hare genome represents the first...ERGA Pilot, VertebratesEd Hollox2023-10-16 20:46:39 View
09 Oct 2020
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An evaluation of pool-sequencing transcriptome-based exon capture for population genomics in non-model species

Assessing a novel sequencing-based approach for population genomics in non-model species

Recommended by and based on reviews by Valentin Wucher and 1 anonymous reviewer

Developing new sequencing and bioinformatic strategies for non-model species is of great interest in many applications, such as phylogenetic studies of diverse related species, but also for studies in population genomics, where a relatively large number of individuals is necessary. Different approaches have been developed and used in these last two decades, such as RAD-Seq (e.g., Miller et al. 2007), exome sequencing (e.g., Teer and Mullikin 2010) and other genome reduced representation methods that avoid the use of a good reference and well annotated genome (reviewed at Davey et al. 2011). However, population genomics studies require the analysis of numerous individuals, which makes the studies still expensive. Pooling samples was thought as an inexpensive strategy to obtain estimates of variability and other related to the frequency spectrum, thus allowing the study of variability at population level (e.g., Van Tassell et al. 2008), although the major drawback was the loss of information related to the linkage of the variants. In addition, population analysis using all these sequencing strategies require statistical and empirical validations that are not always fully performed. A number of studies aiming to obtain unbiased estimates of variability using reduced representation libraries and/or with pooled data have been performed (e.g., Futschik and Schlötterer 2010, Gautier et al. 2013, Ferretti et al. 2013, Lynch et al. 2014), as well as validation of new sequencing methods for population genetic analyses (e.g., Gautier et al. 2013, Nevado et al. 2014). Nevertheless, empirical validation using both pooled and individual experimental approaches combined with different bioinformatic methods has not been always performed.
Here, Deleury et al. (2020) proposed an efficient and elegant way of quantifying the single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) of exon-derived sequences in a non-model species (i.e. for which no reference genome sequence is available) at the population level scale. They also designed a new procedure to capture exon-derived sequences based on a reference transcriptome. In addition, they were able to make predictions of intron-exon boundaries for de novo transcripts based on the decay of read depth at the ends of the coding regions.
Based on theoretical predictions (Gautier et al. 2013), Deleury et al. (2020) designed a procedure to test the accuracy of variant allele frequencies (AFs) with pooled samples, in a reduced genome-sequence library made with transcriptome regions, and additionally testing the effects of new bioinformatic methods in contrast to standardized methods. They applied their strategy on the non-model species Asian ladybird (Harmonia axyridis), for which a draft genome is available, thereby allowing them to benchmark their method with regard to a traditional mapping-based approach. Based on species-specific de novo transcriptomes, they designed capture probes which are then used to call SNPx and then compared the resulting SNP AFs at the individual (multiplexed) versus population (pooled) levels. Interestingly, they showed that SNP AFs in the pool sequencing strategy nicely correlate with the individual ones but obviously in a cost-effective way. Studies of population genomics for non-model species have usually limited budgets. The number of individuals required for population genomics analysis multiply the costs of the project, making pooling samples an interesting option. Furthermore, the use of pool sequencing is not always a choice, as many organisms are too small and/or individuals are too sticked each other to be individually sequenced (e.g., Choquet et al. 2019, Kurland et al. 2019). In addition, the study of a reduced section of the genome is cheaper and often sufficient for a number of population genetic questions, such as the understanding of general demographic events, or the estimation of the effects of positive and/or negative selection at functional coding regions. Studies on population genomics of non-model species have many applications in related fields, such as conservation genetics, control of invasive species, etc. The work of Deleury et al. (2020) is an elegant contribution to the assessment and validation of new methodologies used for the analysis of genome variations at the intra-population variability level, highlighting straight bioinformatic and reliable sequencing methods for population genomics studies.


[1] Choquet et al. (2019). Towards population genomics in non-model species with large genomes: a case study of the marine zooplankton Calanus finmarchicus. Royal Society open science, 6(2), 180608. doi:
[2] Davey, J. W., Hohenlohe, P. A., Etter, P. D., Boone, J. Q., Catchen, J. M. and Blaxter, M. L. (2011). Genome-wide genetic marker discovery and genotyping using next-generation sequencing. Nature Reviews Genetics, 12(7), 499-510. doi:
[3] Deleury, E., Guillemaud, T., Blin, A. and Lombaert, E. (2020) An evaluation of pool-sequencing transcriptome-based exon capture for population genomics in non-model species. bioRxiv, 10.1101/583534, ver. 7 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Genomics.
[4] Ferretti, L., Ramos‐Onsins, S. E. and Pérez‐Enciso, M. (2013). Population genomics from pool sequencing. Molecular ecology, 22(22), 5561-5576. doi:
[5] Futschik, A. and Schlötterer, C. (2010). Massively parallel sequencing of pooled DNA samples—the next generation of molecular markers. Genetics, 186 (1), 207-218. doi:
[6] Gautier et al. (2013). Estimation of population allele frequencies from next‐generation sequencing data: pool‐versus individual‐based genotyping. Molecular Ecology, 22(14), 3766-3779. doi:
[7] Kurland et al. (2019). Exploring a Pool‐seq‐only approach for gaining population genomic insights in nonmodel species. Ecology and evolution, 9(19), 11448-11463. doi:
[8] Lynch, M., Bost, D., Wilson, S., Maruki, T. and Harrison, S. (2014). Population-genetic inference from pooled-sequencing data. Genome biology and evolution, 6(5), 1210-1218. doi:
[9] Miller, M. R., Dunham, J. P., Amores, A., Cresko, W. A. and Johnson, E. A. (2007). Rapid and cost-effective polymorphism identification and genotyping using restriction site associated DNA (RAD) markers. Genome research, 17(2), 240-248. doi:
[10] Nevado, B., Ramos‐Onsins, S. E. and Perez‐Enciso, M. (2014). Resequencing studies of nonmodel organisms using closely related reference genomes: optimal experimental designs and bioinformatics approaches for population genomics. Molecular ecology, 23(7), 1764-1779. doi:
[11] Teer, J. K. and Mullikin, J. C. (2010). Exome sequencing: the sweet spot before whole genomes. Human molecular genetics, 19(R2), R145-R151. doi:
[12] Van Tassell et al. (2008). SNP discovery and allele frequency estimation by deep sequencing of reduced representation libraries. Nature methods, 5(3), 247-252. doi:

An evaluation of pool-sequencing transcriptome-based exon capture for population genomics in non-model speciesEmeline Deleury, Thomas Guillemaud, Aurélie Blin & Eric Lombaert<p>Exon capture coupled to high-throughput sequencing constitutes a cost-effective technical solution for addressing specific questions in evolutionary biology by focusing on expressed regions of the genome preferentially targeted by selection. Tr...Bioinformatics, Population genomicsThomas Derrien2020-02-26 09:21:11 View