High-Specificity Targeted Functional Profiling in Microbial Communities with ShortBRED

James Kaminski, Molly K. Gibson, Eric A. Franzosa, Nicola Segata, Gautam Dantas, Curtis Huttenhower

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

131 Scopus citations


Profiling microbial community function from metagenomic sequencing data remains a computationally challenging problem. Mapping millions of DNA reads from such samples to reference protein databases requires long run-times, and short read lengths can result in spurious hits to unrelated proteins (loss of specificity). We developed ShortBRED (Short, Better Representative Extract Dataset) to address these challenges, facilitating fast, accurate functional profiling of metagenomic samples. ShortBRED consists of two components: (i) a method that reduces reference proteins of interest to short, highly representative amino acid sequences (“markers”) and (ii) a search step that maps reads to these markers to quantify the relative abundance of their associated proteins. After evaluating ShortBRED on synthetic data, we applied it to profile antibiotic resistance protein families in the gut microbiomes of individuals from the United States, China, Malawi, and Venezuela. Our results support antibiotic resistance as a core function in the human gut microbiome, with tetracycline-resistant ribosomal protection proteins and Class A beta-lactamases being the most widely distributed resistance mechanisms worldwide. ShortBRED markers are applicable to other homology-based search tasks, which we demonstrate here by identifying phylogenetic signatures of antibiotic resistance across more than 3,000 microbial isolate genomes. ShortBRED can be applied to profile a wide variety of protein families of interest; the software, source code, and documentation are available for download at http://huttenhower.sph.harvard.edu/shortbred

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1004557
JournalPLoS computational biology
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2015


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