Dorota L. Porazinska,
Matthew J. Morgan,
John M. Gaspar,
Leon N. Court,
Christopher M. Hardy, and
First author: Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center, University of Florida, 3205 College Ave., Fort Lauderdale 33314; first, second, fourth, fifth, and sixth authors: CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences, GPO Box 1700, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 2601, Australia; and third author: Department of Molecular, Cellular & Biomedical Science, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH 03824.
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Accepted for publication 19 December 2013.
Many plant pathogens are microscopic, cryptic, and difficult to diagnose. The new approach of ecometagenetics, involving ultrasequencing, bioinformatics, and biostatistics, has the potential to improve diagnoses of plant pathogens such as nematodes from the complex mixtures found in many agricultural and biosecurity situations. We tested this approach on a gradient of complexity ranging from a few individuals from a few species of known nematode pathogens in a relatively defined substrate to a complex and poorly known suite of nematode pathogens in a complex forest soil, including its associated biota of unknown protists, fungi, and other microscopic eukaryotes. We added three known but contrasting species (Pratylenchus neglectus, the closely related P. thornei, and Heterodera avenae) to half the set of substrates, leaving the other half without them. We then tested whether all nematode pathogens—known and unknown, indigenous, and experimentally added—were detected consistently present or absent. We always detected the Pratylenchus spp. correctly and with the number of sequence reads proportional to the numbers added. However, a single cyst of H. avenae was only identified approximately half the time it was present. Other plant-parasitic nematodes and nematodes from other trophic groups were detected well but other eukaryotes were detected less consistently. DNA sampling errors or informatic errors or both were involved in misidentification of H. avenae; however, the proportions of each varied in the different bioinformatic pipelines and with different parameters used. To a large extent, false-positive and false-negative errors were complementary: pipelines and parameters with the highest false-positive rates had the lowest false-negative rates and vice versa. Sources of error identified included assumptions in the bioinformatic pipelines, slight differences in primer regions, the number of sequence reads regarded as the minimum threshold for inclusion in analysis, and inaccessible DNA in resistant life stages. Identification of the sources of error allows us to suggest ways to improve identification using ecometagenetics.
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