Quality control is critical to microbiome research

We just got back from two days in Rockville, MD for a meeting of the Microbiome Quality Control Project (MBQC).  The MBQC is a project that seeks to understand variability in microbiome data from sampling to analysis and make recommendations as to best practices.  Its steering committee includes some of the leading scientists in the microbiome field, Rob Knight, Curtis Huttenhower, and Owen White (all members of the AMI Scientific Advisory Board), along with epidemiologists from the National Cancer Institute Rashmi Sinha and Christian Abnet.  

Labs from around North America signed up to participate in two different aspects of the study, microbiome handling and bioinformatic data analysis. The labs that were involved in the handling aspect of the study received anonymized samples from a central repository and were tasked with extracting DNA from the samples and sequencing them.  They then made their data available (still anonymized) for the groups who signed up for the bioinformatics phase of the projects to analyze the data. Because all of the groups were handling and sequencing the same samples, differences in results meant that the variability was being caused by some aspect of the handling process or differences in the analysis.

At the meeting the steering committee presented the results of the study followed by a day and a half of discussion of the results and what steps could be taken to develop more standardized results, protocols, and reference materials for future microbiome studies. The results were exciting to see but even forgetting the results, the overall initiative was a huge success. This was a project that took place for over a year and all of the project's participants volunteered an enormous amount of time and conducted their research studies without receiving any funding.  It was wonderful to see a group of the world's leading scientists to come together like this with the sole goal of bettering future microbiome research.  

The AMI supports the MBQC and looks forward to being involved in the future phases of this work. As we learned at the meeting, there is so much left to be done to improve microbiome quality control and this was just the beginning.  More information about the results of the study and the meeting will be published in the coming months.

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