Resolution Revolution: How Whole Genome Sequencing Changes Microbiome Profiling

In the 1950s, the 19inch CRTV was released to the American public and with it came television shows that profoundly impacted American culture. Families who used to gather around the radio were now provided nightly news, comedies, and dramas all with accompanying visual effects. The advent of modern television also brought with it, technologies to enhance the television viewing experience; things like television dinners, the remote control, and video recorders became all the rage.

A few decades later, microwave dinners, music videos, and cable television are as antiquated as AOL, Netscape, and Sega Genesis. Technology moves the world forward and cutting-edge discoveries of the past are only remembered for what advancements they allowed for in the future.

 

Advancements in Biotech are Moving Fast

Biotechnology, just like in other sectors, is advancing at rapid speed. The ability of modern science to detect disease, predict health outcomes, and prevent illness is rapidly expanding. This is no more apparent than in the field of the microbiome. Over the last few years, there have been over 10,000 scientific papers linking the microbiome to improving our overall health. Each of these peer-reviewed papers include findings from thousands of hours of research and experimentation.  

To understand our microbiome, technology has been developed to understand its makeup very much like we have testing to understand DNA. However, all testing is not created equal. Just like the difference between old and new televisions, different tests provide significantly different levels of detail and clarity.

 

What’s the Resolution?

Now the question is, what should we do with all of this data? Is the data itself useful? While all scientific data moves the field of microbiome research forward, the question is the same one we ask about the television. What’s the resolution? A lot of studies and data presented, and companies offering microbiome testing for consumers use antiquated 16s technology to view the microbiome. Why does this matter? From a consumer perspective, the best way to describe the difference between 16s technology and the newest form of technology (whole genome shotgun analysis aka “WGS”) is to remember the television. Just like today’s 4K televisions provide a superior viewing experience compared to the original CRTV, WGS provides a much clearer picture of the microbiome than traditional 16s technology. Take a look for yourself. The graph shows the same example microbiome profile in both 16s and WGS.

Whole Genome Sequencing

As you can see, Whole Genome Sequencing allows the ability to view specific bacteria types with more resolution and provides genus level information. 

 

Does Resolution Matter?

In a word, absolutely. The ability to view bacteria at the species level is critical because some bacteria at the genus level can be both good and bad. Take Bacteroides at 53% for example. This organism has been linked to everything from infectious diarrhea to reducing weight. That’s not really helpful when the average person is trying to understand their gut.

To break it down further, a 2016 study published in the scientific journal, Frontiers of Microbiome, stated that “resolving the taxonomy of 16S rRNA gene sequences can be problematic based on a limited segment of the 16S rRNA gene, such as the V4 region.

That’s why to really understand the gut microbiome and the organisms within it, you need to use Whole Genome Sequencing. Just like when watching television, the better resolution, the better the experience.

 

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2176045/
2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/immunology-and-microbiology/bacteroides-fragilis
3. https://medicine.wustl.edu/news/researchers-study-how-gut-microbes-influence-health/
4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4837688/