Microbial DNA Sequencing in Environmental Studies

University dissertation from Stockholm : KTH Royal Institute of Technology

Abstract: The field of microbial ecology has just entered a new era of rapid technological development and generation of big data. The high-throughput sequencing techniques presently available provide an opportunity to extensively inventorize the blueprints of life. Now, millions of microbes of natural microbial communities can be studied simultaneously without prior cultivation. New species and new functions (genes) can be discovered just by mining sequencing data. However, there is still a tremendous number of microorganisms not yet examined, nor are the ecosystem functions these carry out. The modern genomic technologies can contribute to solve environmental problems and help us understand ecosystems, but to most efficiently do so, methods need to be continuously optimised. During my Ph. D. studies, I developed a method to survey eukaryotic microbial diversity with a higher accuracy, and applied various sequencing-based approaches in an attempt to answer questions of importance in environmental research and ecology. In PAPER-I, we developed a set of 18S rRNA gene PCR primers with high taxonomic coverage, meeting the requirements of currently popular sequencing technologies and matching the richness of 18S rRNA reference sequences accumulated so far. In PAPER-II, we conducted the first sequencing-based spatial survey on the combined eukaryotic and bacterial planktonic community in the Baltic Sea to uncover the relationship of microbial diversity and environmental conditions. Here, the 18S primers designed in PAPER-I and a pair of broad-coverage 16S primers were employed to target the rRNA genes of protists and bacterioplankton for amplicon sequencing. In PAPER-III, we integrated metagenomic, metabarcoding, and metatranscriptomic data in an effort to scrutinise the protein synthesis potential (i.e., activity) of microbes in the sediment at a depth of 460 m in the Baltic Sea and, thus, disclosing microbial diversity and their possible ecological functions within such an extreme environment. Lastly, in PAPER-IV, we compared the performance of E. coli culturing, high-throughput sequencing, and portable real-time sequencing in tracking wastewater contamination in an urban stormwater system. From the aspects of cost, mobility and accuracy, we evaluated the usage of sequencing-based approaches in civil engineering, and for the first time, validated the real-time sequencing device in use within water quality monitoring. In summary, these studies demonstrate how DNA sequencing of microbial communities can be applied in environmental monitoring and ecological research.