Xander: employing a novel method for efficient gene-targeted metagenomic assembly

Qiong Wang, Jordan A. Fish, Mariah Gilman, Yanni Sun, C. Titus Brown, James M. Tiedje, James R. Cole

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


Background: Metagenomics can provide important insight into microbial communities. However, assembling metagenomic datasets has proven to be computationally challenging. Current methods often assemble only fragmented partial genes. Results: We present a novel method for targeting assembly of specific protein-coding genes. This method combines a de Bruijn graph, as used in standard assembly approaches, and a protein profile hidden Markov model (HMM) for the gene of interest, as used in standard annotation approaches. These are used to create a novel combined weighted assembly graph. Xander performs both assembly and annotation concomitantly using information incorporated in this graph. We demonstrate the utility of this approach by assembling contigs for one phylogenetic marker gene and for two functional marker genes, first on Human Microbiome Project (HMP)-defined community Illumina data and then on 21 rhizosphere soil metagenomic datasets from three different crops totaling over 800 Gbp of unassembled data. We compared our method to a recently published bulk metagenome assembly method and a recently published gene-targeted assembler and found our method produced more, longer, and higher quality gene sequences. Conclusion: Xander combines gene assignment with the rapid assembly of full-length or near full-length functional genes from metagenomic data without requiring bulk assembly or post-processing to find genes of interest. HMMs used for assembly can be tailored to the targeted genes, allowing flexibility to improve annotation over generic annotation pipelines. This method is implemented as open source software and is available at https://github.com/rdpstaff/Xander_assembler.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number32
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2015


  • Assembly
  • Biofuel crop
  • Functional gene
  • HMM
  • Metagenomics
  • NifH
  • NirK
  • Nitrogen cycle

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Microbiology (medical)


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