Computational Tools for Annotating Antibiotic Resistance in Metagenomic Data

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Virginia Tech


Metagenomics has become a reliable tool for the analysis of the microbial diversity and the molecular mechanisms carried out by microbial communities. By the use of next generation sequencing, metagenomic studies can generate millions of short sequencing reads that are processed by computational tools. However, with the rapid adoption of metagenomics a large amount of data has been generated. This situation requires the development of computational tools and pipelines to manage the data scalability, accessibility, and performance. In this thesis, several strategies varying from command line, web-based platforms to machine learning have been developed to address these computational challenges.

Interpretation of specific information from metagenomic data is especially a challenge for environmental samples as current annotation systems only offer broad classification of microbial diversity and function. Therefore, I developed MetaStorm, a public web-service that facilitates customization of computational analysis for metagenomic data. The identification of antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) from metagenomic data is carried out by searches against curated databases producing a high rate of false negatives. Thus, I developed DeepARG, a deep learning approach that uses the distribution of sequence alignments to predict over 30 antibiotic resistance categories with a high accuracy.

Curation of ARGs is a labor intensive process where errors can be easily propagated. Thus, I developed ARGminer, a web platform dedicated to the annotation and inspection of ARGs by using crowdsourcing.

Effective environmental monitoring tools should ideally capture not only ARGs, but also mobile genetic elements and indicators of co-selective forces, such as metal resistance genes. Here, I introduce NanoARG, an online computational resource that takes advantage of the long reads produced by nanopore sequencing technology to provide insights into mobility, co-selection, and pathogenicity.

Sequence alignment has been one of the preferred methods for analyzing metagenomic data. However, it is slow and requires high computing resources. Therefore, I developed MetaMLP, a machine learning approach that uses a novel representation of protein sequences to perform classifications over protein functions. The method is accurate, is able to identify a larger number of hits compared to sequence alignments, and is >50 times faster than sequence alignment techniques.



bioinformatics, metagenomics, antibiotic resistance, Machine learning