Fishing in the soup - Pathogen detection in food safety using Metabarcoding and Metagenomic sequencing
In food safety the detection of food contaminations with pathogenic microorganisms is a race against time and often outpaced by error-prone epidemiological approaches. For evidence-based outbreak investigations fast and reliable techniques and procedures are required to identify the source of infection. Metagenomics has the potential to become a powerful tool in the field of modern food safety, since it allows the detection, identification and characterization of a broad range of pathogens in a single experiment without pre-cultivation within a couple of days. Nevertheless, sample handling, sequencing and data analysis are challenging and can introduce errors and biases into the analysis. In order to evaluate the potential of metagenomics in food safety, we generated a mock community containing DNA of foodborne bacteria. Herewith, we compare the aptitude of the two prevalent approaches - 16S rDNA amplicon sequencing and whole genome shotgun sequencing - for the detection of foodborne bacteria using different parameters during sample preparation, sequencing and data analysis. 16S rDNA sequencing did not only result in high deviations from the expected sample composition on genus and species level, but more importantly lacked the detection of several pathogenic species. While shotgun sequencing is more suitable for species detection, abundance estimation, genome assembly and species characterization, the performance can vary depending on the library preparation kit, which was confirmed for a naturally Francisella tularensis contaminated game meat sample. The application of the Nextera XT DNA Library Preparation Kit for shotgun sequencing did not only result in lower reference genome recovery and coverage, but also in distortions of the mock community composition. For data analysis, we propose a publicly available workflow for pathogen detection and characterization and demonstrate its benefits on the usability of metagenomic sequencing in food safety by analyzing an authentic metagenomic sample.