In DepthMicrobiology

Contamination plagues some microbiome studies

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Science  14 Nov 2014:
Vol. 346, Issue 6211, pp. 801
DOI: 10.1126/science.346.6211.801

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After discovering that contamination had created a false impression about differences in the microbial communities in infants and toddlers, and realizing that these contaminating species often appeared in other microbiome studies, researchers in the United Kingdom have done a systematic study of how contamination can affect results of genomic surveys of microbes. They find that most testing kits and other reagents for analyzing DNA contain stray microbial DNA that can overpower the signal of the native bacteria, particularly when those bacteria are not very plentiful. Thus, contamination will not be a problem for microbiome studies of fecal samples, which have a lot of bacteria, but looms large for samples containing relatively few bacteria, such as dust, spinal fluid, or blood.