Benchmarking a targeted 16S ribosomal RNA gene enrichment approach to reconstruct ancient microbial communities

Raphael Eisenhofer, Sterling Wright, Laura Weyrich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The taxonomic characterization of ancient microbiomes is a key step in the rapidly growing field of paleomicrobiology. While PCR amplification of the 16S ribosomal RNA (rRNA) gene is a widely used technique in modern microbiota studies, this method has systematic biases when applied to ancient microbial DNA. Shotgun metagenomic sequencing has proven to be the most effective method in reconstructing taxonomic profiles of ancient dental calculus samples. Nevertheless, shotgun sequencing approaches come with inherent limitations that could be addressed through hybridization enrichment capture. When employed together, shotgun sequencing and hybridization capture have the potential to enhance the characterization of ancient microbial communities. Here, we develop, test, and apply a hybridization enrichment capture technique to selectively target 16S rRNA gene fragments from the libraries of ancient dental calculus samples generated with shotgun techniques. We simulated data sets generated from hybridization enrichment capture, indicating that taxonomic identification of fragmented and damaged 16S rRNA gene sequences was feasible. Applying this enrichment approach to 15 previously published ancient calculus samples, we observed a 334-fold increase of ancient 16S rRNA gene fragments in the enriched samples when compared to unenriched libraries. Our results suggest that 16S hybridization capture is less prone to the effects of background contamination than 16S rRNA amplification, yielding a higher percentage of on-target recovery. While our enrichment technique detected low abundant and rare taxa within a given sample, these assignments may not achieve the same level of specificity as those achieved by unenriched methods.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere16770
StatePublished - 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences

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