Sequence clustering is a common early step in amplicon-based microbial community analysis, when raw sequencing reads are clustered into operational taxonomic units (OTUs) to reduce the run time of subsequent analysis steps. Here, we evaluated the performance of recently released state-of-the-art open-source clustering software products, namely, OTUCLUST, Swarm, SUMACLUST, and SortMeRNA, against current principal options (UCLUST and USEARCH) in QIIME, hierarchical clustering methods in mothur, and USEARCH’s most recent clustering algorithm, UPARSE. All the latest open-source tools showed promising results, reporting up to 60% fewer spurious OTUs than UCLUST, indicating that the underlying clustering algorithm can vastly reduce the number of these derived OTUs. Furthermore, we observed that stringent quality filtering, such as is done in UPARSE, can cause a significant underestimation of species abundance and diversity, leading to incorrect biological results. Swarm, SUMACLUST, and SortMeRNA have been included in the QIIME 1.9.0 release.
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