Comparative analysis of environmental sequences: potential and challenges.
Environmental sequencing, also dubbed metagenomics, is increasingly being used to obtain insights into organismal communities in diverse habitats, and has a variety of potential applications foreseeable in biotechnology and medicine. The first public large-scale data provide already a wealth of information hidden in vast amounts of fragmented pieces of DNA from unknown species residing in these environments. Comparative sequence analysis is essential for the interpretation of such data. However, different layers of complexity that are intrinsic to each sample require the establishment of some baselines for comparison: how to normalize for the differences in phylogenetic and functional diversity, how to avoid biases from incomplete data, and how to deal with differences in species dominance or genome sizes? Here we discuss a few of these items and delineate some simple discriminative sequence properties for four distinct habitats.