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Open Access Research article

Genome signature analysis of thermal virus metagenomes reveals Archaea and thermophilic signatures

David T Pride1* and Thomas Schoenfeld2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases and Geographic Medicine, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA, USA

2 Lucigen, Middleton, WI, USA

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BMC Genomics 2008, 9:420  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-9-420

Published: 17 September 2008



Metagenomic analysis provides a rich source of biological information for otherwise intractable viral communities. However, study of viral metagenomes has been hampered by its nearly complete reliance on BLAST algorithms for identification of DNA sequences. We sought to develop algorithms for examination of viral metagenomes to identify the origin of sequences independent of BLAST algorithms. We chose viral metagenomes obtained from two hot springs, Bear Paw and Octopus, in Yellowstone National Park, as they represent simple microbial populations where comparatively large contigs were obtained. Thermal spring metagenomes have high proportions of sequences without significant Genbank homology, which has hampered identification of viruses and their linkage with hosts. To analyze each metagenome, we developed a method to classify DNA fragments using genome signature-based phylogenetic classification (GSPC), where metagenomic fragments are compared to a database of oligonucleotide signatures for all previously sequenced Bacteria, Archaea, and viruses.


From both Bear Paw and Octopus hot springs, each assembled contig had more similarity to other metagenome contigs than to any sequenced microbial genome based on GSPC analysis, suggesting a genome signature common to each of these extreme environments. While viral metagenomes from Bear Paw and Octopus share some similarity, the genome signatures from each locale are largely unique. GSPC using a microbial database predicts most of the Octopus metagenome has archaeal signatures, while bacterial signatures predominate in Bear Paw; a finding consistent with those of Genbank BLAST. When using a viral database, the majority of the Octopus metagenome is predicted to belong to archaeal virus Families Globuloviridae and Fuselloviridae, while none of the Bear Paw metagenome is predicted to belong to archaeal viruses. As expected, when microbial and viral databases are combined, each of the Octopus and Bear Paw metagenomic contigs are predicted to belong to viruses rather than to any Bacteria or Archaea, consistent with the apparent viral origin of both metagenomes.


That BLAST searches identify no significant homologs for most metagenome contigs, while GSPC suggests their origin as archaeal viruses or bacteriophages, indicates GSPC provides a complementary approach in viral metagenomic analysis.