Background: Research has found that human associated microbial communities play a role in homeostasis and the disruption of these communities may be important in an array of medical conditions. However outside of the human body many of these communities remain poorly studied. The Metagenomics and Metadesign of the Subways and Urban Biomes (MetaSUB) International Consortium is characterizing the microbiomes of urban environments with the aim to improve design of mass transit systems. As part of the CAMDA 2018 MetaSUB Forensics Challenge 311 city microbiome samples were provided to create urban microbial fingerprints, as well as a further 3 mystery datasets for validation. Results: MetaSUB samples were clustered using t-SNE in an unsupervised fashion to almost discrete groups, which upon inspection represented city of origin. Based on this clustering, geographically close metropolitan areas appear to display similar microbial profiles such as those of Auckland and Hamilton. Mystery unlabeled samples were provided part of the challenge. A random forest classifier built on the initial dataset of 311 samples was capable of correctly classifying 83.3% of the mystery samples to their city of origin. Random Forest analyses also identified features with the highest discriminatory power, ranking bacterial species such as Campylobacter jejuni and Staphylococcus argenteus as highly predictive of city of origin. The surface from which the sample was collected displayed little detectable impact on the microbial profiles in the data generated here. The proportion of reads classified per sample varied greatly and so de-novo assembly was applied to recover genomic fragments representing organisms not captured in reference databases. Conclusions: Current methods can differentiate urban microbiome profiles from each other with relative ease. De-novo assembly indicated that the MetaSUB metagenomic data contains adequate depth to recover metagenomic assembled genomes and that current databases are not sufficient to fully characterize urban microbiomes. Profiles found here indicate there may be a relationship between geographical distance between areas and the urban microbiome composition although this will need further research. The impact of these different profiles on public health is currently unknown but the MetaSUB consortium is uniquely suited to evaluate these and provide a roadmap for the inclusion of urban microbiome information for city planning and public health policy. Reviewers: This article was reviewed by Dimitar Vassilev, Eran Elhaik and Chengsheng Zhu.
- Machine learning
- Public health