Spherical: an iterative workflow for assembling metagenomic datasets

Thomas C A Hitch, Christopher J Creevey

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BACKGROUND: The consensus emerging from the study of microbiomes is that they are far more complex than previously thought, requiring better assemblies and increasingly deeper sequencing. However, current metagenomic assembly techniques regularly fail to incorporate all, or even the majority in some cases, of the sequence information generated for many microbiomes, negating this effort. This can especially bias the information gathered and the perceived importance of the minor taxa in a microbiome.

RESULTS: We propose a simple but effective approach, implemented in Python, to address this problem. Based on an iterative methodology, our workflow (called Spherical) carries out successive rounds of assemblies with the sequencing reads not yet utilised. This approach also allows the user to reduce the resources required for very large datasets, by assembling random subsets of the whole in a "divide and conquer" manner.

CONCLUSIONS: We demonstrate the accuracy of Spherical using simulated data based on completely sequenced genomes and the effectiveness of the workflow at retrieving lost information for taxa in three published metagenomics studies of varying sizes. Our results show that Spherical increased the amount of reads utilized in the assembly by up to 109% compared to the base assembly. The additional contigs assembled by the Spherical workflow resulted in a significant (P < 0.05) changes in the predicted taxonomic profile of all datasets analysed. Spherical is implemented in Python 2.7 and freely available for use under the MIT license. Source code and documentation is hosted publically at: https://github.com/thh32/Spherical .

Original languageEnglish
Article number20
JournalBMC Bioinformatics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jan 2018


  • assembly
  • metagenome
  • genomics


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