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06 Feb 2024
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The need of decoding life for taking care of biodiversity and the sustainable use of nature in the Anthropocene - a Faroese perspective

Why sequence everything? A raison d’être for the Genome Atlas of Faroese Ecology

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by Tereza Manousaki and 1 anonymous reviewer

When discussing the Earth BioGenome Project with scientists and potential funding agencies, one common question is: why sequence everything? Whether sequencing a subset would be more optimal is not an unreasonable question given what we know about the mathematics of importance and Pareto’s 80:20 principle, that 80% of the benefits can come from 20% of the effort. However, one must remember that this principle is an observation made in hindsight and selecting the most effective 20% of experiments is difficult. As an example, few saw great applied value in comparative genomic analysis of the archaea Haloferax mediterranei, but this enabled the discovery of CRISPR/Cas9 technology (1). When discussing whether or not to sequence all life on our planet, smaller countries such as the Faroe Islands are seldom mentioned. 
Mikalsen and co-authors (2) provide strong arguments to appreciate, investigate and steward genetic diversity, from a Faroese viewpoint, a fishery viewpoint, and a global viewpoint. As readers, we learn to cherish the Faroe Islands, the Faroese, and perhaps by extension all of nature and the people of the world. The manuscript describes the proposed Faroese participation in the European Reference Genome Atlas (ERGA) consortium through Gen@FarE – the Genome Atlas of Faroese Ecology. Gen@FarE aims to: i) generate high-quality reference genomes for all eukaryotes on the islands and in its waters; ii) establish population genetics of all species of commercial or ecological interest; and iii) establish a “databank” for all Faroese species with citizen science tools for participation.

In the background section of the manuscript, the authors argue that as caretakers of the earth (and responsible for the current rapid decrease in biodiversity), humanity must be aware of the biodiversity and existing genetic diversity, to protect these for future generations. Thus, it is necessary to have reference genomes for as many species as possible, enabling estimation of population sizes and gene flow between ecosystem locations. Without this the authors note that “…it is impossible to make relevant management plans for a species, an ecosystem or a geographical area…”. Gen@FarE is important. The Faroe nation has a sizable economic zone in the North Atlantic and large fisheries. In terms of biodiversity and conservation, the authors list some species endemic to other Faroe islands, especially sea birds. The article discusses ongoing marine environmental-DNA-based monitoring programs that started in 2018, and how new reference genome databases will help these efforts to track and preserve marine biodiversity. They point to the lack of use of population genomics information for Red List decisions on which species are endangered, and the need for these techniques to inform sustainable harvesting of fisheries, given collapses in critical food species such as Northwest Atlantic cod and herring. In one example, they highlight how the herring chromosome 12 inversion contains a “supergene” collection of tightly linked genes associated with ecological adaptation. Genetic tools may also help enable the identification and nurturing of feeding grounds for young individuals. Critically, the Faroe Islands have a significant role to play in protecting the millions of tons of seafood caught annually upon which humanity relies. As the authors note, population genomics based on high-quality reference sequences is “likely the best tool” to monitor and protect commercial fisheries. There is an important section discussing the role of interactions between visible and “invisible" species in the marine ecosystem on which we all depend. Examples of “invisible” species include a wide range of morphologically similar planktonic algae, and invasive species transported by ballast water or ship hulls.​ As biologists, I believe we forget that our population studies of life on the earth have so far been mostly in the dark. Gen@FarE is but one light that can be switched on. 

The authors conclude by discussing Gen@FarE plans for citizen science and education, perhaps the most important part of this project if humanity is to learn to cherish and care for the earth. Where initiatives such as the Human Genome Project did not need the collaborative efforts of the world for sample access, the Earth BioGenome Project most certainly does. In the same way, at a smaller scale, Gen@FarE requires the support and determination of the Faroese. 


1          Mojica, F. J., Díez-Villaseñor, C. S., García-Martínez, J. & Soria, E. Intervening sequences of regularly spaced prokaryotic repeats derive from foreign genetic elements. J Mol Evol 60, 174-182 (2005).

2          Mikalsen, S-O., Hjøllum, J. í., Salter, I., Djurhuus, A. & Kongsstovu, S. í. The need of decoding life for taking care of biodiversity and the sustainable use of nature in the Anthropocene – a Faroese perspective. EcoEvoRxiv (2024), ver. 3 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Genomics.

The need of decoding life for taking care of biodiversity and the sustainable use of nature in the Anthropocene - a Faroese perspectiveSvein-Ole Mikalsen, Jari í Hjøllum, Ian Salter, Anni Djurhuus, Sunnvør í Kongsstovu<p>Biodiversity is under pressure, mainly due to human activities and climate change. At the international policy level, it is now recognised that genetic diversity is an important part of biodiversity. The availability of high-quality reference g...ERGA, ERGA Pilot, Population genomics, VertebratesStephen Richards2023-07-31 16:59:33 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
13 Jul 2022
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Nucleosome patterns in four plant pathogenic fungi with contrasted genome structures

Genome-wide chromatin and expression datasets of various pathogenic ascomycetes

Recommended by and based on reviews by Ricardo C. Rodríguez de la Vega and 1 anonymous reviewer

Plant pathogenic fungi represent serious economic threats. These organisms are rapidly adaptable, with plastic genomes containing many variable regions and evolving rapidly. It is, therefore, useful to characterize their genetic regulation in order to improve their control. One of the steps to do this is to obtain omics data that link their DNA structure and gene expression. 
In this paper, Clairet et al. (2022) studied the nucleosome positioning and gene expression of four plant pathogenic ascomycete species (Leptosphaeria maculans, Leptosphaeria maculans 'lepidii', Fusarium graminearum, Botrytis cinerea). The genomes of these species contain different compositions of transposable elements (from 4 to 30%), and present an equally variable compartmentalization. The authors established MNAse-seq and RNA-seq maps of these genomes in axenic cultures. Thanks to an ad-hoc tool allowing the visualization of MNA-seq data in combination with other "omics" data, they were able to compare the maps of the different species between them and to study different types of correlation. This tool, called MSTS for "MNase-Seq Tool Suite", allows for example to perform limited analyses on certain genetic subsets in an ergonomic way. 
In the fungi studied, nucleosomes are positioned every 161 to 172 bp, with intra-genome variations such as AT-rich regions but, surprisingly, particularly dense nucleosomes in the Lmb genome. The authors discuss the differences between these organisms with respect to this nucleosome density, the expression profile, and the structure and transposon composition of the different genomes. These data and insights thus represent interesting resources for researchers interested in the evolution of ascomycete genomes and their adaptation. For this, and for the development of the MSTS tool, we recommend this preprint.


Clairet C, Lapalu N, Simon A, Soyer JL, Viaud M, Zehraoui E, Dalmais B, Fudal I, Ponts N (2022) Nucleosome patterns in four plant pathogenic fungi with contrasted genome structures. bioRxiv, 2021.04.16.439968, ver. 4 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Genomics.

Nucleosome patterns in four plant pathogenic fungi with contrasted genome structuresColin Clairet, Nicolas Lapalu, Adeline Simon, Jessica L. Soyer, Muriel Viaud, Enric Zehraoui, Berengere Dalmais, Isabelle Fudal, Nadia Ponts<p style="text-align: justify;">Fungal pathogens represent a serious threat towards agriculture, health, and environment. Control of fungal diseases on crops necessitates a global understanding of fungal pathogenicity determinants and their expres...Epigenomics, FungiSébastien Bloyer2021-04-17 10:32:41 View
06 Jul 2021
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A pipeline to detect the relationship between transposable elements and adjacent genes in host genomes

A new tool to cross and analyze TE and gene annotations

Recommended by based on reviews by 2 anonymous reviewers

Transposable elements (TEs) are important components of genomes. Indeed, they are now recognized as having a major role in gene and genome evolution (Biémont 2010). In particular, several examples have shown that the presence of TEs near genes may influence their functioning, either by recruiting particular epigenetic modifications (Guio et al. 2018) or by directly providing new regulatory sequences allowing new expression patterns (Chung et al. 2007; Sundaram et al. 2014). Therefore, the study of the interaction between TEs and their host genome requires tools to easily cross-annotate both types of entities. In particular, one needs to be able to identify all TEs located in the close vicinity of genes or inside them. Such task may not always be obvious for many biologists, as it requires informatics knowledge to develop their own script codes.

In their work, Meguerdichian et al. (2021) propose a command-line pipeline that takes as input the annotations of both genes and TEs for a given genome, then detects and reports the positional relationships between each TE insertion and their closest genes. The results are processed into an R script to provide tables displaying some statistics and graphs to visualize these relationships. 

This tool has the potential to be very useful for performing preliminary analyses before studying the impact of TEs on gene functioning, especially for biologists. Indeed, it makes it possible to identify genes close to TE insertions. These identified genes could then be specifically considered in order to study in more detail the link between the presence of TEs and their functioning. For example, the identification of TEs close to genes may allow to determine their potential role on gene expression.


Biémont C (2010). A brief history of the status of transposable elements: from junk DNA to major players in evolution. Genetics, 186, 1085–1093.

Chung H, Bogwitz MR, McCart C, Andrianopoulos A, ffrench-Constant RH, Batterham P, Daborn PJ (2007). Cis-regulatory elements in the Accord retrotransposon result in tissue-specific expression of the Drosophila melanogaster insecticide resistance gene Cyp6g1. Genetics, 175, 1071–1077.

Guio L, Vieira C, González J (2018). Stress affects the epigenetic marks added by natural transposable element insertions in Drosophila melanogaster. Scientific Reports, 8, 12197.

Meguerditchian C, Ergun A, Decroocq V, Lefebvre M, Bui Q-T (2021). A pipeline to detect the relationship between transposable elements and adjacent genes in host genomes. bioRxiv, 2021.02.25.432867, ver. 4 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community In Genomics.

Sundaram V, Cheng Y, Ma Z, Li D, Xing X, Edge P, Snyder MP, Wang T (2014). Widespread contribution of transposable elements to the innovation of gene regulatory networks. Genome Research, 24, 1963–1976.

A pipeline to detect the relationship between transposable elements and adjacent genes in host genomesCaroline Meguerditchian, Ayse Ergun, Veronique Decroocq, Marie Lefebvre, Quynh-Trang Bui<p>Understanding the relationship between transposable elements (TEs) and their closest positional genes in the host genome is a key point to explore their potential role in genome evolution. Transposable elements can regulate and affect gene expr...Bioinformatics, Viruses and transposable elementsEmmanuelle Lerat2021-03-03 15:08:34 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
09 Aug 2023
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Efficient k-mer based curation of raw sequence data: application in Drosophila suzukii

Decontaminating reads, not contigs

Recommended by based on reviews by Marie Cariou and Denis Baurain

Contamination, the presence of foreign DNA sequences in a sample of interest, is currently a major problem in genomics. Because contamination is often unavoidable at the experimental stage, it is increasingly recognized that the processing of high-throughput sequencing data must include a decontamination step. This is usually performed after the many sequence reads have been assembled into a relatively small number of contigs. Dubious contigs are then discarded based on their composition (e.g. GC-content) or because they are highly similar to a known piece of DNA from a foreign species.

Here [1], Mathieu Gautier explores a novel strategy consisting in decontaminating reads, not contigs. Why is this promising? Assembly programs and algorithms are complex, and it is not easy to predict, or monitor, how they handle contaminant reads. Ideally, contaminant reads will be assembled into obvious contaminant contigs. However, there might be more complex situations, such as chimeric contigs with alternating genuine and contaminant segments. Decontaminating at the read level, if possible, should eliminate such unfavorable situations where sequence information from contaminant and target samples are intimately intertwined by an assembler.

To achieve this aim, Gautier proposes to use methods initially designed for the analysis of metagenomic data. This is pertinent since the decontamination process involves considering a sample as a mixture of different sources of DNA. The programs used here, CLARK and CLARK-L, are based on so-called k-mer analysis, meaning that the similarity between a read to annotate and a reference sequence is measured by how many sub-sequences (of length 31 base pairs for CLARK and 27 base pairs for CLARK-L) they share. This is notoriously more efficient than traditional sequence alignment algorithms when it comes to comparing a very large number of (most often unrelated) sequences. This is, therefore, a reference-based approach, in which the reads from a sample are assigned to previously sequenced genomes based on k-mer content.

This original approach is here specifically applied to the case of Drosophila suzukii, an invasive pest damaging fruit production in Europe and America. Fortunately, Drosophila is a genus of insects with abundant genomic resources, including high-quality reference genomes in dozens of species. Having calibrated and validated his pipeline using data sets of known origins, Gautier quantifies in each of 258 presumed D. suzukii samples the proportion of reads that likely belong to other species of fruit flies, or to fruit fly-associated microbes. This proportion is close to one in 16 samples, which clearly correspond to mis-labelled individuals. It is non-negligible in another ~10 samples, which really correspond to D. suzukii individuals. Most of these reads of unexpected origin are contaminants and should be filtered out. Interestingly, one D. suzukii sample contains a substantial proportion of reads from the closely related D. subpulchera, which might instead reflect a recent episode of gene flow between these two species. The approach, therefore, not only serves as a crucial technical step, but also has the potential to reveal biological processes.

Gautier's thorough, well-documented work will clearly benefit the ongoing and future research on D. suzuki, and Drosophila genomics in general. The author and reviewers rightfully note that, like any reference-based approach, this method is heavily dependent on the availability and quality of reference genomes - Drosophila being a favorable case. Building the reference database is a key step, and the interpretation of the output can only be made in the light of its content and gaps, as illustrated by Gautier's careful and detailed discussion of his numerous results. 

This pioneering study is a striking demonstration of the potential of metagenomic methods for the decontamination of high-throughput sequence data at the read level. The pipeline requires remarkably few computing resources, ensuring low carbon emission. I am looking forward to seeing it applied to a wide range of taxa and samples.



[1] Gautier Mathieu. Efficient k-mer based curation of raw sequence data: application in Drosophila suzukii. bioRxiv, 2023.04.18.537389​, ver. 2, peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Genomics.​

Efficient k-mer based curation of raw sequence data: application in *Drosophila suzukii*Gautier Mathieu<p>Several studies have highlighted the presence of contaminated entries in public sequence repositories, calling for special attention to the associated metadata. Here, we propose and evaluate a fast and efficient kmer-based approach to assess th...Bioinformatics, Population genomicsNicolas Galtier2023-04-20 22:05:13 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
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
24 Sep 2020
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A rapid and simple method for assessing and representing genome sequence relatedness

A quick alternative method for resolving bacterial taxonomy using short identical DNA sequences in genomes or metagenomes

Recommended by based on reviews by Gavin Douglas and 1 anonymous reviewer

The bacterial species problem can be summarized as follows: bacteria recombine too little, and yet too much (Shapiro 2019).
Too little in the sense that recombination is not obligately coupled with reproduction, as in sexual eukaryotes. So the Biological Species Concept (BSC) of reproductive isolation does not strictly apply to clonally reproducing organisms like bacteria. Too much in the sense that genetic exchange can occur promiscuously across species (or even Domains), potentially obscuring species boundaries.
In parallel to such theoretical considerations, several research groups have taken more pragmatic approaches to defining bacterial species based on sequence similarity cutoffs, such as genome-wide average nucleotide identity (ANI). At a cutoff above 95% ANI, genomes are considered to come from the same species. While this cutoff may appear arbitrary, a discontinuity around 95% in the distribution of ANI values has been argued to provide a 'natural' cutoff (Jain et al. 2018). This discontinuity has been criticized as being an artefact of various biases in genome databases (Murray, Gao, and Wu 2020), but appears to be a general feature of relatively unbiased metagenome-assembled genomes as well (Olm et al. 2020). The 95% cutoff has been suggested to represent a barrier to homologous recombination (Olm et al. 2020), although clusters of genetic exchange consistent with BSC-like species are observed at much finer identity cutoffs (Shapiro 2019; Arevalo et al. 2019).
Although 95% ANI is the most widely used genomic standard for species delimitation, it is by no means the only plausible approach. In particular, tracts of identical DNA provide evidence for recent genetic exchange, which in turn helps define BSC-like clusters of genomes (Arevalo et al. 2019). In this spirit, Briand et al. (2020) introduce a genome-clustering method based on the number of shared identical DNA sequences of length k (or k-mers). Using a test dataset of Pseudomonas genomes, they find that 95% ANI corresponds to approximately 50% of shared 15-mers. Applying this cutoff yields 350 Pseudomonas species, whereas the current taxonomy only includes 207 recognized species. To determine whether splitting the genus into a greater number of species is at all useful, they compare their new classification scheme to the traditional one in terms of the ability to taxonomically classify metagenomic sequencing reads from three Pseudomonas-rich environments. In all cases, the new scheme (termed K-IS for "Kinship relationships Identification with Shared k-mers") yielded a higher number of classified reads, with an average improvement of 1.4-fold. This is important because increasing the number of genome sequences in a reference database – without consistent taxonomic annotation of these genomes – paradoxically leads to fewer classified metagenomic reads. Thus a rapid, automated taxonomy such as the one proposed here offers an opportunity to more fully harness the information from metagenomes.
KI-S is also fast to run, so it is feasible to test several values of k and quickly visualize the clustering using an interactive, zoomable circle-packing display (that resembles a cross-section of densely packed, three-dimensional dendrogram). This interface allows the rapid flagging of misidentified species, or understudied species with few sequenced representatives as targets for future study. Hopefully these initial Pseudomonas results will inspire future studies to apply the method to additional taxa, and to further characterize the relationship between ANI and shared identical k-mers. Ultimately, I hope that such investigations will resolve the issue of whether or not there is a 'natural' discontinuity for bacterial species, and what evolutionary forces maintain this cutoff.


Arevalo P, VanInsberghe D, Elsherbini J, Gore J, Polz MF (2019) A Reverse Ecology Approach Based on a Biological Definition of Microbial Populations. Cell, 178, 820-834.e14.
Briand M, Bouzid M, Hunault G, Legeay M, Saux MF-L, Barret M (2020) A rapid and simple method for assessing and representing genome sequence relatedness. bioRxiv, 569640, ver. 5 peer-reveiwed and recommended by PCI Genomics.
Jain C, Rodriguez-R LM, Phillippy AM, Konstantinidis KT, Aluru S (2018) High throughput ANI analysis of 90K prokaryotic genomes reveals clear species boundaries. Nature Communications, 9, 5114.
Murray CS, Gao Y, Wu M (2020) There is no evidence of a universal genetic boundary among microbial species. bioRxiv, 2020.07.27.223511.
Olm MR, Crits-Christoph A, Diamond S, Lavy A, Carnevali PBM, Banfield JF (2020) Consistent Metagenome-Derived Metrics Verify and Delineate Bacterial Species Boundaries. mSystems, 5.
Shapiro BJ (2019) What Microbial Population Genomics Has Taught Us About Speciation. In: Population Genomics: Microorganisms Population Genomics. (eds Polz MF, Rajora OP), pp. 31–47. Springer International Publishing, Cham.

A rapid and simple method for assessing and representing genome sequence relatednessM Briand, M Bouzid, G Hunault, M Legeay, M Fischer-Le Saux, M Barret<p>Coherent genomic groups are frequently used as a proxy for bacterial species delineation through computation of overall genome relatedness indices (OGRI). Average nucleotide identity (ANI) is a widely employed method for estimating relatedness ...Bioinformatics, MetagenomicsB. Jesse Shapiro Gavin Douglas2019-11-07 16:37:56 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