Evaluation of computational phage detection tools for metagenomic datasets

Introduction

As new computational tools for detecting phage in metagenomes are being rapidly developed, a critical need has emerged to develop systematic benchmarks.

Methods

In this study, we surveyed 19 metagenomic phage detection tools, 9 of which could be installed and run at scale. Those 9 tools were assessed on several benchmark challenges. Fragmented reference genomes are used to assess the effects of fragment length, low viral content, phage taxonomy, robustness to eukaryotic contamination, and computational resource usage. Simulated metagenomes are used to assess the effects of sequencing and assembly quality on the tool performances. Finally, real human gut metagenomes and viromes are used to assess the differences and similarities in the phage communities predicted by the tools.

Results

We find that the various tools yield strikingly different results. Generally, tools that use a homology approach (VirSorter, MARVEL, viralVerify, VIBRANT, and VirSorter2) demonstrate low false positive rates and robustness to eukaryotic contamination. Conversely, tools that use a sequence composition approach (VirFinder, DeepVirFinder, Seeker), and MetaPhinder, have higher sensitivity, including to phages with less representation in reference databases. These differences led to widely differing predicted phage communities in human gut metagenomes, with nearly 80% of contigs being marked as phage by at least one tool and a maximum overlap of 38.8% between any two tools. While the results were more consistent among the tools on viromes, the differences in results were still significant, with a maximum overlap of 60.65%. Discussion: Importantly, the benchmark datasets developed in this study are publicly available and reusable to enable the future comparability of new tools developed.

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