Microbial session at POLAR 2018 in Davos

Davos, Switzerland, site of the POLAR2018 conference.  Image from https://www.inghams.co.uk

With colleagues Maria Corsaro, Eric Collins, Maria Tutino, Jody Deming, and Julie Dinasquet I’m convening a session on polar microbial ecology and evolution at the upcoming POLAR2018 conference in Davos, Switzerland.  Polar2018 is shaping up to be a unique and excellent conference; for the first time (I think) the major international Arctic science organization (IASC) is joining forces with the major international Antarctic science organization (SCAR) for a joint meeting.  Because many polar scientists specialize in one region, and thus have few opportunities to learn from the other, a joint meeting will be a great opportunity to share ideas.

Here’s the full-text description for our session.  If your work is related to microbial evolution, adaption, or ecological function in the polar regions I hope you’ll consider applying!

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Denitrifying bacteria and oysters

The eastern oyster.  Denitrification never tasted so good!  Photo from http://dnr.sc.gov.

I’m happy to be co-author on a study that was just published by Ann Arfken, a PhD student at the Virginia Institute for Marine Science (VIMS).  The study evaluated the composition of the microbial community associated with eastern oyster Crassostrea virginica to determine if oysters play a role in denitrification.  Denitrification is an ecologically significant anaerobic microbial metabolism.  In the absence of oxygen certain microbes use other oxidized compounds as electron acceptors.  Nitrate (NO3) is a good alternate electron acceptor, and the process of reducing nitrate to nitrite (NO2), and ultimately to elemental nitrogen (N2), is called denitrification.  Unfortunately nitrate is needed by photosynthetic organisms like plants and phytoplankton, so the removal of nitrate can be detrimental to ecosystem health.  Oxygen is easily depleted in the guts of higher organisms by high rates of metabolic activity, creating a niche for denitrification and other anaerobic processes.

Predicted relative abundance (paprica) as a function of measured (qPCR) relative abundance of nosZI genes.  From Arfken et al. 2017.

To evaluate denitrification in C. virginica, Arfken et al. coupled actual measurements of denitrification in sediments and oysters with an analysis of microbial community structure in oyster shells and digestive glands.  We then used paprica with a customized database to predict the presence of denitrification genes, and validated the predictions with qPCR.

I was particularly happy to see that the qPCR results agreed well with the paprica predictions for the nosZ gene, which codes for the enzyme responsible for reducing nitrous oxide (N2O) to N2.  I believe this is the first example of qPCR being used to validate metabolic inference – which currently lacks a good method for validation.  Surprisingly however (at least to me), denitrification in C. virginica was largely associated with the oyster shell rather than the digestive gland.  We don’t really know why this is.  Arfken et al. suggests rapid colonization of the oyster shell by denitrifying bacteria that also produce antibiotic compounds to exclude predators, but further work is needed to demonstrate this!

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Analyzing flow cytometry data with R

We recently got our CyFlow Space flow cytometer in the lab and have been working out the kinks.  From a flow cytometry perspective the California coastal environment is pretty different from the western Antarctic Peninsula where I’ve done most of my flow cytometry work.  Getting my eyes calibrated to a new flow cytometer and a the coastal California environment has been an experience.  Helping me on this task is Tia Rabsatt, a SURF REU student from the US Virgin Islands.  Tia will be heading home in a couple of weeks which presents a challenge; once she leaves she won’t have access to the proprietary software that came with the flow cytometer.  To continue analyzing the data she collected over the summer as part of her project she’ll need a different solution.

To give her a way to work with the FCS files I put together a quick R script that reads in the file, sets some event limits, and produces a nice plot.  With a little modification one could “gate” and count different regions.  The script uses the flowCore package to read in the FCS format files, and the hist2d command in gplots to make a reasonably informative plot.


#### parameters ####

f.name <- 'file.name.goes.here'  # name of the file you want to analyze, file must have extension ".FCS"
sample.size <- 1e5               # number of events to plot, use "max" for all points
fsc.ll <- 1                      # FSC lower limit
ssc.ll <- 1                      # SSC lower limit
fl1.ll <- 1                      # FL1 lower limit (ex488/em536)

#### functions ####

## plotting function

plot.events <- function(fcm, x.param, y.param){
         col = c('grey', colorRampPalette(c('white', 'lightgoldenrod1', 'darkgreen'))(100)),
         nbins = 200,
         bg = 'grey',
         ylab = paste0('log10(', y.param, ')'),
         xlab = paste0('log10(', x.param, ')'))

#### read in file ####

fcm <- read.FCS(paste0(f.name, '.FCS'))
fcm <- as.data.frame((exprs(fcm)))

#### analyze file and make plot ####

## eliminate values that are below or equal to thresholds you
## defined above

fcm$SSC[fcm$SSC <= ssc.ll|fcm$FSC <= fsc.ll|fcm$FL1 == fl1.ll] <- NA
fcm <- na.omit(fcm)

fcm.sample <- fcm

if(sample.size != 'max'){
  try({fcm.sample <- fcm[sample(length(fcm$SSC), sample.size),]},
      silent = T)

## plot events in a couple of different ways

plot.events(fcm, 'FSC', 'SSC')
plot.events(fcm, 'FSC', 'FL1')

## make a presentation quality figure

png(paste0(f.name, '_FSC', '_FL1', '.png'),
    width = 2000,
    height = 2000,
    pointsize = 50)

plot.events(fcm, 'FSC', 'FL1')


And here’s the final plot:

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OPAG comes to Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Artist’s rendition of the Dawn spacecraft approaching Ceres.  Original image can be found here.

I’m excited to be hosting the fall meeting of NASA’s Outer Planets Assessment Group (OPAG) here at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in September.  For planetary scientists at UCSD, SDSU, USD, and other institutions in the greater San Diego area, if you’ve never attended the OPAG meeting here’s your chance!  The meeting will be September 6 and 7 at the Samual H. Scripps Auditorium.  More details can be found here.

What are assessment groups, and what is OPAG specifically?  The assessment groups are an excellent NASA innovation to encourage dialogue within the scientific community, and between the scientific community and NASA HQ.  There’s usually a little tense dialogue – in a good way – between these two ends of the scientific spectrum.  I often wish NSF had a similar open-format dialogue with its user community!  The form of the OPAG meeting is 15 or 30 minute presentations on a range of topics relevant to the community.  These are often mission updates, planning updates for future missions, and preliminary results from the analysis of mission data.  NASA has quite a few assessment groups, ranging from the Small Body Assessment Group (SBAG – probably the AG with the catchiest acronym) to the Mars Assessment Group (MPAG).  OPAG covers everything in the solar system further from the sun than Mars.  If that covers your favorite planetary body, come and check it out!

It’s traditional to have a public evening lecture with the OPAG meeting.  For the upcoming meeting the lecture will be given at 7 pm on September 6 at the Samuel Scripps Auditorium by my friend and colleague Britney Schmidt, a planetary scientist from Georgia Tech and an expert on Europa and on Antarctic ice sheets.  Why and how one can develop that dual expertise will certainly be made clear in her talk.  There is no cost to attend, but an RSVP is recommended.  You can find more details and RSVP here.

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Analyzing “broad” data with glmnet

Very often environmental datasets contain far fewer observations than we would like, and far more variables that might influence these observations.  This is the case for one of my projects in the Palmer LTER: I have annual observations of an environmental indicator (n = 19) and far more than 19 environmental conditions (predictors, p) that might influence the indicator.  This is a broad dataset (n >> p), and the problem can’t be solved with classic multiple regression (for which the number of observations must exceed the number of predictors).  Enter the R package glmnet.  Glmnet is an implementation of lasso, ridge, and elastic-net regression.  There are a limited number of glmnet tutorials out there, including this one, but I couldn’t find one that really provided a practical start to end guide.  Here’s the method that I came up with for using glmnet to select variables for multiple regression.  I’m not an expert in glmnet, so don’t take this as a definitive guide.  Comments are welcome!

First, let’s get some data.  The data are various climate indices with a 13- month time lag as well as sea ice extent, open water extent, and fractional open water extent.  There are a couple of years missing from this dataset, and we need to remove one more year for reasons that aren’t important here.

env.params <- read.csv('http://www.polarmicrobes.org/extras/env_params.csv', header = T, row.names = 1)
env.params <- env.params[row.names(env.params) != '1994',]

To keep things simple we’ll create our response variable by hand. Nevermind what the response variable is for now, you can read our paper when it comes out 🙂

response <- c(0.012, 0.076, 0.074, 0.108, 0.113, 0.154, 0.136, 0.183, 0.210, 0.043, 0.082, 0.092, 0.310, 0.185, 0.436, 0.357, 0.472, 0.631, 0.502)

One thing to note at this point is that, because we have so few observations, we can’t really withhold any to cross-validate the glmnet regression. That’s a shame because it means that we can’t easily optimize the alpha parameter (which determines whether glmnet uses lasso, elastic net, or ridge) as was done here. Instead we’ll use alpha = 0.9. This is to make the analysis a little bit elastic-netty, but still interpretable.

In my real analysis I was using glmnet to identify predictors for lots of response variables.  It was therefor useful to write a function to generalize the several commands needed for glmnet.  Here’s the function:


## The function requires a matrix of possible predictors, a vector with the response variable,
## the GLM family used for the model (e.g. 'gaussian'), the alpha parameter, and "type.measure".
## See the documentation on cv.glmnet for options.  Probably you want "deviance". 

get.glmnet <- function(predictors, response, family, alpha, type.measure){
  glmnet.out <- glmnet(predictors, response, family = family, alpha = alpha)
  glmnet.cv <- cv.glmnet(predictors, response, family = family, alpha = alpha, type.measure = type.measure)
  ## Need to find the local minima for lambda.
  lambda.lim <- glmnet.cv$lambda[which.min(glmnet.cv$cvm)]
  ## Now identify the coefficients that correspond to the lambda minimum.
  temp.coefficients.i <- coefficients(glmnet.out, s = lambda.lim)@i + 1 # +1 to account for intercept
  ## And the parameter names...
  temp.coefficients.names <- coefficients(glmnet.out, s = lambda.lim)@Dimnames[[1]][temp.coefficients.i]
  temp.coefficients <- coefficients(glmnet.out, s = lambda.lim)@x
  ## Package for export.
  temp.coefficients <- rbind(temp.coefficients.names, temp.coefficients)

Phew!  Okay, let’s try to do something with this.  Note that glmnet requires a matrix as input, not a dataframe.

response.predictors <- get.glmnet(data.matrix(env.params), response, 'gaussian', alpha, 'deviance')
      temp.coefficients.names temp.coefficients      
 [1,] "(Intercept)"           "0.496410195525042"    
 [2,] "ao.Apr"                "0.009282064516813"    
 [3,] "ao.current"            "-0.0214919836174853"  
 [4,] "pdo.Mar"               "-0.0568728879266135"  
 [5,] "pdo.Aug"               "-0.00881845994191182" 
 [6,] "pdo.Dec"               "-0.0321738320415234"  
 [7,] "ow.Dec"                "1.92231198892721e-06" 
 [8,] "ow.frac.current"       "0.207945851122607"    
 [9,] "ice.Sep"               "-2.29621552264475e-06"

So glmnet thinks there are 9 predictors.  Possible, but I’m a little suspicious.  I’d like to see this in the more familiar GLM format so that I can wrap my head around the significance of the variables.  Let’s start by building a null model of all the predictors.

null.model <- lm(response ~ ao.Apr + ao.current + pdo.Mar + pdo.Aug + pdo.Dec + ow.Dec + ow.frac.current + ice.Sep, data = env.params)
> summary(null.model)

lm(formula = response ~ ao.Apr + ao.current + pdo.Mar + pdo.Aug + 
    pdo.Dec + ow.Dec + ow.frac.current + ice.Sep, data = env.params)

     Min       1Q   Median       3Q      Max 
-0.14304 -0.03352 -0.01679  0.05553  0.13497 

                  Estimate Std. Error t value Pr(>|t|)  
(Intercept)      2.052e+00  1.813e+00   1.132   0.2841  
ao.Apr           2.226e-02  3.702e-02   0.601   0.5610  
ao.current      -3.643e-02  1.782e-02  -2.044   0.0681 .
pdo.Mar         -7.200e-02  3.215e-02  -2.240   0.0490 *
pdo.Aug         -1.244e-02  2.948e-02  -0.422   0.6821  
pdo.Dec         -6.072e-02  3.664e-02  -1.657   0.1285  
ow.Dec           3.553e-06  1.749e-06   2.032   0.0696 .
ow.frac.current  1.187e-01  4.807e-01   0.247   0.8100  
ice.Sep         -1.023e-05  8.558e-06  -1.195   0.2596  
Signif. codes:  0 ‘***’ 0.001 ‘**’ 0.01 ‘*’ 0.05 ‘.’ 0.1 ‘ ’ 1

Residual standard error: 0.09043 on 10 degrees of freedom
Multiple R-squared:  0.8579,	Adjusted R-squared:  0.7443 
F-statistic: 7.549 on 8 and 10 DF,  p-value: 0.002224

Hmmm… this looks messy.  There’s only one predictor with a slope significantly different from 0.  A high amount of variance in the original data is accounted for, but it smells like overfitting to me.  Let’s QC this model a bit by 1) checking for autocorrelations, 2) using AIC and relative likelihood to further eliminate predictors, and 3) selecting the final model with ANOVA.

## Check for autocorrelations using variance inflation factors

> vif(null.model)
         ao.Apr      ao.current         pdo.Mar         pdo.Aug         pdo.Dec          ow.Dec ow.frac.current 
       1.610203        1.464678        1.958998        2.854688        2.791749        1.772611        1.744653 

Surprisingly, all the parameters have acceptable vif scores (vif < 5).  Let’s proceed with relative likelihood.

## Define a function to evaluate relative likelihood.

rl <- function(aicmin, aici){
  return(exp((aicmin-aici) / 2))

## Construct multiple possible models, by adding parameters by order of abs(t value) in summary(null.lm).

model.1 <- lm(response ~ pdo.Mar, data = env.params)
model.2 <- lm(response ~ pdo.Mar + ao.current, data = env.params)
model.3 <- lm(response ~ pdo.Mar + ao.current + ow.Dec, data = env.params)
model.4 <- lm(response ~ pdo.Mar + ao.current + ow.Dec + pdo.Dec, data = env.params)
model.5 <- lm(response ~ pdo.Mar + ao.current + ow.Dec + pdo.Dec + ice.Sep, data = env.params)
model.6 <- lm(response ~ pdo.Mar + ao.current + ow.Dec + pdo.Dec + ice.Sep + ao.Apr, data = env.params)
model.7 <- lm(response ~ pdo.Mar + ao.current + ow.Dec + pdo.Dec + ice.Sep + ao.Apr + pdo.Aug, data = env.params)

## Collect AIC scores for models.

model.null.aic <- AIC(null.model)
model.1.aic <- AIC(model.1)
model.2.aic <- AIC(model.2)
model.3.aic <- AIC(model.3)
model.4.aic <- AIC(model.4)
model.5.aic <- AIC(model.5)
model.6.aic <- AIC(model.6)
model.7.aic <- AIC(model.7)

## Identify the model with the lowest AIC score.

> which.min(c(model.1.aic, model.2.aic, model.3.aic, model.4.aic, model.5.aic, model.6.aic, model.7.aic, model.null.aic))
[1] 5

So model.5 has the lowest AIC.  We need to check the relative likelihood of other models minimizing information loss. Models with values < 0.05 do not have a significant likelihood of minimizing information loss and can be discarded.

> rl(model.5.aic, model.1.aic)
[1] 8.501094e-05
> rl(model.5.aic, model.1.aic)
[1] 8.501094e-05
> rl(model.5.aic, model.2.aic)
[1] 0.00143064
> rl(model.5.aic, model.3.aic)
[1] 0.002415304
> rl(model.5.aic, model.4.aic)
[1] 0.7536875
> rl(model.5.aic, model.6.aic)
[1] 0.4747277
> rl(model.5.aic, model.7.aic)
[1] 0.209965
> rl(model.5.aic, model.null.aic)
[1] 0.08183346

Excellent, we can discard quite a few possible mode here; model.1, model.2, and model.3.  Last we’ll use ANOVA and the chi-squared test to see if any of the models are significantly different from model.4, the model with the fewest parameters.

> anova(model.4, model.5, test = 'Chisq')
Analysis of Variance Table

Model 1: response ~ pdo.Mar + ao.current + ow.Dec + pdo.Dec
Model 2: response ~ pdo.Mar + ao.current + ow.Dec + pdo.Dec + ice.Sep
  Res.Df      RSS Df Sum of Sq Pr(>Chi)
1     14 0.098626                      
2     13 0.086169  1  0.012457   0.1704

> anova(model.4, model.6, test = 'Chisq')
Analysis of Variance Table

Model 1: response ~ pdo.Mar + ao.current + ow.Dec + pdo.Dec
Model 2: response ~ pdo.Mar + ao.current + ow.Dec + pdo.Dec + ice.Sep + 
  Res.Df      RSS Df Sum of Sq Pr(>Chi)
1     14 0.098626                      
2     12 0.083887  2   0.01474   0.3485

> anova(model.4, model.7, test = 'Chisq')
Analysis of Variance Table

Model 1: response ~ pdo.Mar + ao.current + ow.Dec + pdo.Dec
Model 2: response ~ pdo.Mar + ao.current + ow.Dec + pdo.Dec + ice.Sep + 
    ao.Apr + pdo.Aug
  Res.Df      RSS Df Sum of Sq Pr(>Chi)
1     14 0.098626                      
2     11 0.082276  3   0.01635   0.5347

> anova(model.4, null.model, test = 'Chisq')
Analysis of Variance Table

Model 1: response ~ pdo.Mar + ao.current + ow.Dec + pdo.Dec
Model 2: response ~ ao.Apr + ao.current + pdo.Mar + pdo.Aug + pdo.Dec + 
    ow.Dec + ow.frac.current + ice.Sep
  Res.Df      RSS Df Sum of Sq Pr(>Chi)
1     14 0.098626                      
2     10 0.081778  4  0.016849   0.7247

Okay, there’s a whole lot going on there, they important thing is that none of the models are significantly different from the model with the fewest parameters. There are probably some small gains in the performance of those models, but at an increased risk of over fitting.  So model.4 is the winner, and we deem pdo.Mar, ao.current, ow.Dec, and pdo.Dec to be the best predictors of the response variable.  For those of you who are curious, that’s the March index for the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, the index for the Antarctic Oscillation when the cruise was taking place, within-pack ice open water extent in December (the month prior to the cruise), and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation index in December.  Let’s take a look at the model:

> summary(model.4)

lm(formula = response ~ pdo.Mar + ao.current + ow.Dec + pdo.Dec, 
    data = env.params)

      Min        1Q    Median        3Q       Max 
-0.177243 -0.037756 -0.003996  0.059606  0.114155 

              Estimate Std. Error t value Pr(>|t|)    
(Intercept) -3.586e-02  5.893e-02  -0.609 0.552563    
pdo.Mar     -9.526e-02  2.208e-02  -4.315 0.000713 ***
ao.current  -3.127e-02  1.590e-02  -1.967 0.069308 .  
ow.Dec       4.516e-06  1.452e-06   3.111 0.007663 ** 
pdo.Dec     -8.264e-02  2.172e-02  -3.804 0.001936 ** 
Signif. codes:  0 ‘***’ 0.001 ‘**’ 0.01 ‘*’ 0.05 ‘.’ 0.1 ‘ ’ 1

Residual standard error: 0.08393 on 14 degrees of freedom
Multiple R-squared:  0.8287,	Adjusted R-squared:  0.7797 
F-statistic: 16.93 on 4 and 14 DF,  p-value: 2.947e-05

You’ll recall that the null model accounted for 74 % of the variance in the response variable, our final model accounts for 78 % and we’ve dropped several parameters.  Not bad!  Note that we never could have gotten to this point however, without the holistic search provided by glmnet.

I can still hear some grumbling about over fitting however, so let’s try to address that by bootstrapping.  We are crazy data-limited with only 19 observations, but let’s iteratively hold three observations back at random, build a model with the remaining 16 (using our identified parameters), and see how well each model predicts the three that were held back.  I created a function to do this so that I could repeat this exercise for lots of different response variables.

## The function requires as input the response vector, a vector of the predictors,
## the data frame of predictors, and the number of iterations you want to run.

bootstrap.model <- function(response.vector, predictors, data, n){
  predictor.df <- as.data.frame(data[,predictors])
  colnames(predictor.df) <- predictors
  model.predictions <- matrix(ncol = 3, nrow = 0)
  colnames(model.predictions) <- c('year', 'prediction', 'real')
  ## How many observations you need to withhold is determined by how many
  ## iterations you want to run.  For example, for 1000 iterations of
  ## unique random subsets of 19 observations, you need to withold 3.
  x <- 0
  boot <- 0
  for(y in (length(response.vector) - 1):1){
    while(x < n){
      boot <- boot + 1
      x <- y ** boot
  ## Now build n new models.
  for(i in 1:n){
    predict.i <- sample.int(length(response.vector), boot)
    train.i <- which(!1:length(response.vector) %in% predict.i)
    temp.model <- lm(response.vector ~ ., data = predictor.df, subset = train.i)
    new.data <- as.data.frame(predictor.df[predict.i,])
    colnames(new.data) <- predictors
    temp.predict <- predict(temp.model, newdata = new.data, type = 'response')
    temp.actual <- response.vector[predict.i]
    temp.out <- matrix(ncol = 3, nrow = boot)
    try({temp.out[,1] <- names(response.vector)[predict.i]}, silent = T)
    temp.out[,2] <- temp.predict
    temp.out[,3] <- temp.actual
    model.predictions <- rbind(model.predictions, temp.out)
  mean.predicted <- as.data.frame(tapply(as.numeric(model.predictions[,2]), as.character(model.predictions[,3]), mean))
  sd.predicted <- as.data.frame(tapply(as.numeric(model.predictions[,2]), as.character(model.predictions[,3]), sd))
  ## Make an awesome plot.

  plot(mean.predicted[,1] ~ as.numeric(row.names(mean.predicted)),
     ylab = 'Predicted response',
     xlab = 'Observed response',
     pch = 19)
  for(r in row.names(mean.predicted)){
    lines(c(as.numeric(r), as.numeric(r)), c(mean.predicted[r,1], mean.predicted[r,1] + sd.predicted[r,1]))
    lines(c(as.numeric(r), as.numeric(r)), c(mean.predicted[r,1], mean.predicted[r,1] - sd.predicted[r,1]))
  abline(0, 1, lty = 2)
  mean.lm <- lm(mean.predicted[,1] ~ as.numeric(row.names(mean.predicted)))
  ## Capture stuff that might be useful later in a list.
  list.out <- list()
  list.out$model.predictions <- model.predictions
  list.out$mean.lm <- mean.lm
  list.out$mean.predicted <- mean.predicted
  list.out$sd.predicted <- sd.predicted

## And execute the function...

demo.boostrap <- bootstrap.model(response, c('pdo.Mar', 'ao.current', 'ow.Dec', 'pdo.Dec'), env.params, 1000)

Hey, that looks pretty good!  The dotted line is 1:1, while the solid line gives the slope of the regression between predicted and observed values.  The lines through each point give the standard deviation of the predictions for that point across all iterations.  There’s scatter here, but the model predicts low values for low observations, and high for high, so it’s a start…

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Microbial community segmentation with R

In my previous post I discussed our recent paper in ISME J, in which we used community structure and flow cytometry data to predict bacterial production.  The insinuation is that if you know community structure, and have the right measure of physiology, you can make a decent prediction of any microbial ecosystem function.  The challenge is that community structure data, which often has hundreds or thousands of dimensions (taxa, OTUs, etc.), is not easily used in straightforward statistical models.   Our workaround is to reduce the community structure data from many dimensions to a single categorical variable represented by a number.  We call this process segmentation.

You could carry out this dimension reduction with pretty much any clustering algorithm; you’re simply grouping samples with like community structure characteristics on the assumption that like communities will have similar ecosystem functions.  We  use the emergent self organizing map (ESOM), a neural network algorithm, because it allows new data to be classified into an existing ESOM.  For example, imagine that you are collecting a continuous time series of microbial community structure data.  You build an ESOM to segment your first few years of data, subsequent samples can be quickly classified into the existing model.  Thus the taxonomic structure, physiological, and ecological characteristics of the segments are stable over time.  There are other benefits to use an ESOM.  One is that with many samples (far more than we had in our study), the ESOM is capable of resolving patterns that many other clustering techniques cannot.

There are many ways to construct an ESOM.  I haven’t tried a Python-based approach, although I’m keen to explore those methods.  For the ISME J paper I used the Kohonen package in R, which has a nice publication that describes some applications and is otherwise reasonably well documented.  To follow this tutorial you can download our abundance table here.  Much of the inspiration, and some of the code for this analysis, follows the (retail) customer segmentation example given here.

For this tutorial you can download a table of the closest estimated genomes and closest completed genomes (analogous to an abundance table) here.  Assuming you’ve downloaded the data into your working directory, fire up Kohonen and build the ESOM.

## Kohonen needs a numeric matrix
edge.norm <- as.matrix(read.csv('community_structure.csv', row.names = 1))

## Load the library

## Define a grid.  The bigger the better, but you want many fewer units in the grid
## than samples.  1:5 is a good ballpark, here we are minimal.
som.grid <- somgrid(xdim = 5, ydim=5, topo="hexagonal")

## Now build the ESOM!  It is worth playing with the parameters, though in
## most cases you will want the circular neighborhood and toroidal map structure.
som.model.edges <- som(edge.norm, 
                 grid = som.grid, 
                 rlen = 100,
                 alpha = c(0.05,0.01),
                 keep.data = TRUE,
                 n.hood = "circular",
                 toroidal = T)

Congratulations!  You’ve just constructed your first ESOM.  Pretty easy.  You’ve effectively clustered the samples into the 25 units that define the ESOM.  You can visualize this as such:

plot(som.model.edges, type = 'mapping', pch = 19)

There are the 25 map units, with the toroid split and flattened into 2D.  Each point is a sample (row in the abundance table), positioned in the unit that best reflects its community structure.  I’m not going to go into any depth on the ESOM algorithm, which is quite elegant, but the version implemented in the Kohonen package is based on Euclidean distance.  How well each map unit represents the samples positioned within it is represented by the distance between the map unit and each sample.  This can be visualized with:

plot(som.model.edges, type = 'quality', pch = 19, palette.name = topo.colors)

Units with shorter distances in the plot above are better defined by the samples in those units than units with long distances.  What distance is good enough depends on your data and objectives.

The next piece is trickier because there’s a bit of an art to it.  At this point each sample has been assigned to one of the 25 units in the map.  In theory we could call each map unit a “segment” and stop here.  It’s beneficial however, to do an additional round of clustering on the map units themselves.  Particularly on large maps (which clearly this is not) this will highlight major structural features in the data.  Both k-means and hierarchical clustering work fairly well, anecdotally k-means seems to work better with smaller maps and hierarchical with larger maps, but you should evaluate for your data.  Here we’ll use k-means.  K-means requires that you specify the number of clusters in advance, which is always a fun chicken and egg problem.  To solve it we use the within-clusters sum of squares method:

wss.edges <- (nrow(som.model.edges$codes)-1)*sum(apply(som.model.edges$codes,2,var)) 
for (i in 2:15) {
  wss.edges[i] <- sum(kmeans(som.model.edges$codes, centers=i)$withinss)

     pch = 19,
     ylab = 'Within-clusters sum of squares',
     xlab = 'K')

Here’s where the art comes in.  Squint at the plot and try to decide the inflection point.  I’d call it 8, but you should experiment with whatever number you pick to see if it makes sense downstream.

We can make another plot of the map showing which map units belong to which clusters:

k <- 8
som.cluster.edges <- kmeans(som.model.edges$codes, centers = k)

     main = '',
     type = "property",
     property = som.cluster.edges$cluster,
     palette.name = topo.colors)
add.cluster.boundaries(som.model.edges, som.cluster.edges$cluster)

Remember that the real shape of this map is a toroid and not a square.  The colors represent the final “community segmentation”; the samples belong to map units, and the units belong to clusters.  In our paper we termed these clusters “modes” to highlight the fact that there are real ecological properties associated with them, and that (unlike clusters) they support classification.  To get the mode of each sample we need to index the sample-unit assignments against the unit-cluster assignments.  It’s a little weird until you get your head wrapped around it:

[1] 5 7 7 5 2 7 5 3 7 5 2 6 1 1 1 7 5 4 7 7 5 7 7 7 7 7 7 1 4 4 4 4 7 7 7 6 6 6 6 1 1 1 7 5 5 5 1 1 1 5 5 7 7 4 8 7 7 4 7 8
[61] 7 7 7 7 6 5 6 7 7 7 6 4 6 5 4 4 6 2 1 1 1 1 1 4 1 4 4 4

A really important thing to appreciate about these modes is that they are not ordered or continuous.  Mode 4 doesn’t necessarily have more in common with mode 5 say, than with mode 1.  For this reason it is important to treat the modes as factors in any downstream analysis (e.g. in linear modeling).  For our analysis I had a dataframe with bacterial production, chlorophyll concentration, and bacterial abundance, and predicted genomic parameters from paprica.  By saving the mode data as a new variable in the dataframe, and converting the dataframe to a zoo timeseries, it was possible to visualize the occurrence of modes, model the data, and test the pattern of modes for evidence of succession.  Happy segmenting!

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New paper published in ISME Journal

I’m happy to report that a paper I wrote during my postdoc at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory was published online today in the ISME Journal.  The paper, Bacterial community segmentation facilitates the prediction of ecosystem function along the coast of the western Antarctic Peninsula, uses a novel technique to “segment” the microbial community present in many different samples into a few groups (“modes”) that have specific functional, ecological, and genomic attributes.  The inspiration for this came when I stumbled across this blog entry on an approach used in marketing analytics.  Imagine that a retailer has a large pool of customers that it would like to pester with ads tailored to purchasing habits.  It’s too cumbersome to develop an individualized ad based on each customer’s habits, and it isn’t clear what combination of purchasing-habit parameters accurately describe meaningful customer groups.  Machine learning techniques, in this case emergent self-organizing maps (ESOMs), can be used to sort the customers in a way that optimizes their similarity and limits the risk of overtraining the model (including parameters that don’t improve the model).

In a 2D representation of an ESOM, the customers most like one another will be organized in geographically coherent regions of the map.  Hierarchical or k-means clustering can be superimposed on the map to clarify the boundaries between these regions, which in this case might represent customers that will respond similarly to a targeted ad.  But what’s really cool about this whole approach is that, unlike with NMDS or PCA or other multivariate techniques based on ordination, new customers can be efficiently classified into the existing groups.  There’s no need to rebuild the model unless a new type of customer comes along, and it is easy to identify when this occurs.

Back to microbial ecology.  Imagine that you have a lot of samples (in our case a five year time series), and that you’ve described community structure for these samples with 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing.  For each sample you have a table of OTUs, or in our case closest completed genomes and closest estimated genomes (CCGs and CEGs) determined with paprica.  You know that variations in community structure have a big impact on an ecosystem function (e.g. respiration, or nitrogen fixation), but how to test the correlation?  There are statistical methods in ecology that get at this, but they are often difficult to interpret.  What if community structure could be represented as a simple value suitable for regression models?

Enter microbial community segmentation.  Following the customer segmentation approach described above, the samples can be segmented into modes based on community structure with an Emergent Self Organizing Map and k-means clustering.  Here’s what this looks like in practice:

From Bowman et al. 2016.  Segmentation of samples based on bacterial community structure.  C-I show the relative abundance of CEGs and CCGs in each map unit.  This value was determined iteratively while the map was trained, and reflects the values for samples located in each unit (B).

This segmentation reduces the data for each sample from many dimensions (the number of CCG and CEG present in each samples) to 1.  This remaining dimension is a categorical variable with real ecological meaning that can be used in linear models.  For example, each mode has certain genomic characteristics:

From Bowman et al. 2016.  Genomic characteristics of modes (a and b), and metabolic pathways associated with taxa that account for most of the variations in composition between modes (d).

In panel a above we see that samples belonging to modes 5 and 7 (dominated by the CEG Rhodobacteraceae and CCG Dokdonia MED134, see Fig. 2 above) have the greatest average number of 16S rRNA gene copies.  Because this is a characteristic of fast growing, copiotrophic bacteria, we might also associate these modes with high levels of bacterial production.

Because the modes are categorical variables we can insert them right into linear models to predict ecosystem functions, such as bacterial production.  Combined with bacterial abundance and a measure of high vs. low nucleic acid bacteria, mode accounted for 76 % of the variance in bacterial production for our samples.  That’s a strong correlation for environmental data.  What this means in practice is; if you know the mode, and you have some flow cytometry data, you can make a pretty good estimate of carbon assimilation by the bacterial community.

For more on what you can do with modes (such as testing for community succession) check out the article!  I’ll post a tutorial on how to segment microbial community structure data into modes using R in a separate post.  It’s easier than you think…

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paprica v0.4.0

I’m happy to announce the release of paprica v0.4.0.  This release adds a number of new features to our pipeline for evaluating microbial community and metabolic structure.  These include:

  • NCBI taxonomy information for each point of placement on the reference tree, including internal nodes.
  • Inclusion of the domain Eukarya.  This was a bit tricky and requires some further explanation.

The distribution of metabolic pathways, predicted during the creation of the paprica Eukarya database, across transcriptomes in the MMETSP.

Eukaryotic genomes are a totally different beast than their archaeal and bacterial counterparts.  First and foremost they are massive.  Because of these there aren’t very many completed eukaryotic genomes out there, particularly for singled celled eukaryotes.  While a single investigator can now sequence, assemble, and annotate a bacterial or archaeal genome in very little time, eukaryotic genomes still require major efforts by consortia and lots of $$.

One way to get around this scale problem is to focus on eukaryotic transcriptomes instead of genomes.  Because much of the eukaryotic genome is noncoding this greatly reduces sequencing volume.  Since there is no such thing as a contiguous transcriptome, this approach also implies that no assembly (beyond open reading frames) will be attempted.  The Moore Foundation-funded Marine Microbial Eukaryotic Transcriptome Sequencing Project (MMETSP) was an initial effort to use this approach to address the problem of unknown eukaryotic genetic diversity.  The MMETSP sequenced transcriptomes from several hundred different strains.  The taxonomic breadth of the strains sequenced is pretty good, even if (predictably) the taxonomic resolution is not.  Thus, as for archaea, the phylogenetic tree and metabolic inferences should be treated with caution.  For eukaryotes there are the additional caveats that 1) not all genes coded in a genome will be represented in the transcriptome 2) the database contains only strains from the marine environment and 3) eukaryotic 18S trees are kind of messy.  Considerable effort went into making a decent tree, but you’ve been warned.

Because the underlying data is in a different format, not all genome parameters are calculated for the eukaryotes.  18S gene copy number is not determined (and thus community and metabolic structure are not normalized), the phi parameter, GC content, etc. are also not calculated.  However, eukaryotic community structure is evaluated and metabolic structure inferred in the same way as for the domains bacteria and archaea:

./paprica-run.sh test.eukarya eukarya

As always you can install paprica v0.4.0 by following the instructions here, or you can use the virtual box or Amazon Web Service machine instance.

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paprica on the cloud

This is a quick post to announce that paprica, our pipeline to evaluate community structure and conduct metabolic inference, is now available on the cloud as an Amazon Machine Instance (AMI).  The AMI comes with all dependencies required to execute the paprica-run.sh script pre-installed.  If you want to use it for paprica-build.sh you’ll have to install pathway-tools and a few additional dependencies.  I’m new to the Amazon EC2 environment, so please let me know if you have any issues using the AMI.

If you are new to Amazon Web Services (AWS) the basic way this works is:

  • Sign up for Amazon EC2 using your normal Amazon log-in
  • From the AWS console, make sure that your region is N. Virginia (community AMI’s are only available in the region they were created in)
  • From your EC2 dashboard, scroll down to “Create Instance” and click “Launch Instance”
  • Now select the “Community AMIs”
  • Search for “paprica-ec2”, then select the AMI corresponding to the latest version of paprica (0.4.0 at the time of writing).
  • Choose the type of instance you would like to run the AMI on.  This is the real power of AWS; you can tailor the instance to the analysis you would like to run.  For testing choose the free t2.micro instance.  This is sufficient to execute the test files or run a small analysis (hundreds of reads).  To use paprica’s parallel features select an instance with the desired number of cores and sufficient memory.
  • Click “Review and Launch”, and finish setting up the instance as appropriate.
  • Log onto the instance, navigate to the paprica directory, execute the test file(s) as described in the paprica tutorial.  The AMI is not updated as often as paprica, so you may wish to reclone the github repository, or download the latest stable release.
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Antarctic Long Term Ecological Research


The Palmer and McMurdo Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) projects; separate but equal… at least in terms of interesting ecosystem dynamics if not in terms of biomass!

I’m very excited that our manuscript “Microbial community dynamics in two polar extremes: The lakes of the McMurdo Dry Valleys and the West Antarctic Peninsula Marine Ecosystem” has been published as an overview article in the journal BioScience.  The article belongs to a special issue comparing different ecological aspects of the two NSF-funded Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites in Antarctica.  I’m actually writing this post on my return trip from the first ever open science meeting of the International Long Term Ecological Research (ILTER) network at Kruger National Park in South Africa (an excellent place to ponder ecological questions).

This article had an odd genesis; the special issue was conceived by John Priscu, a PI with the McMurdo LTER project.  I was ensnared in the project along with Trista Vick-Majors, a graduate student with John Priscu (now a postdoctoral scholar at McGill University), shortly after starting my postdoc with Hugh Ducklow, PI on the Palmer LTER project.  The guidance we received was more or less “compare the McMurdo and Palmer LTERs”.  How exactly we should compare perennially ice-covered lakes in a polar desert to one of the richest marine ecosystems on the planet was left up to us.  Fortunately, microbial ecology lends itself to highly reductionist thinking.   This isn’t always helpful, but we reasoned that on a basal level the two ecosystems must function more or less the same.  Despite dramatically different physical settings, both environments host communities of phytoplankton (sometimes even similar taxonomic groups).  These convert solar energy into chemical energy and CO2 into organic carbon, thereby supporting communities of heterotrophic bacteria and grazers.

To look at the details of this we stretched the bounds of what constitutes an “overview article” and aggregated nearly two decades of primary production and bacterial production data collected by the McMurdo LTER, and over a decade of the same from the Palmer LTER.  By looking at the ratio of bacterial production to primary production we assessed how much carbon the heterotrophic bacterial community takes up relative to how much the phytoplankton community produces.

Some stuff

Figure from Bowman et al., 2016, BioScience.  A) Depth-integrated bacterial (BP) and primary production (PP) for the Palmer LTER study area and several lakes in Taylor Valley.  B)  The region occupied by the mean and standard deviation for discrete points (too many points to show).  C) The distribution of BP:PP for each site.

Typical marine values for this ratio are 1:10.  At a value of around 1:5 the carbon demands of heterotrophic bacteria are probably not met by phytoplankton production (the majority of carbon taken up by bacteria is lost through respiration and is not accounted for in the bacterial production assay).  Most of the lakes hover around 1:5, with values above this fairly common.  Lake Fryxell however, an odd lake at the foot of Canada Glacier, has values that often exceed 1:1!  Consistent with previous work on the lakes such high rates of bacterial production (relative to primary production) can only be met by a large external carbon subsidy.

Where does this external carbon come from?  Each summer the McMurdo Dry Valleys warm up enough that the various glaciers at the valley peripheries begin to melt.  This meltwater fuels chemoautotrophic bacterial communities where the glacier meets rock (the subglacial environment), and microbial mats in various streams and melt ponds.  Like microbial communities everywhere these bleed a certain amount of dissolved carbon (and particulate; DOC and POC) into the surrounding water.  Some of this carbon ends up in the lakes where it enhances bacterial production.

But external carbon subsidies aren’t the only part of the story.  Nutrients, namely phosphate and nitrate, are washed into the lakes as well.  During big melt years (such as the summer of 2001-2002 when a major positive SAM coupled to an El Nino caused unusually high temperatures) the lakes receives big pulses of relatively labile carbon but also inorganic nutrients and silt.  This odd combination has the effect of suppressing primary production in the near term through lowered light levels (all that silt), enhancing it in the long term (all those nutrients), and giving heterotrophic bacteria some high quality external carbon to feed on during the period that primary production is suppressed.  Or at least that’s how we read it.

Not a lake person?  How do things work over in the Palmer LTER?  One of the biggest ecological differences between Palmer and McMurdo is that the former has grazers (e.g. copepods, salps, and krill) and the latter does not, or at least not so many to speak off.  Thus an argument can be made that carbon dynamics at Palmer are driven (at least partially) by top-down controls (i.e. grazers), while at McMurdo they are dependent almost exclusively on bottom-up (i.e. chemical and physical) controls.

At times the difference between bacterial production and primary production is pretty extreme at Palmer.  In the summer of 2006 for example, bacterial production was only 3 % of primary production (see Fig. 4 in the publication), and the rate of primary production that summer was pretty high.  The krill population was also pretty high that year; at the top of their 4-year abundance cycle (see Saba et al. 2014, Nature Communications).  This is speculative, but I posit that bacterial production was low in part because a large amount of carbon was being transferred via krill to the higher trophic levels and away from bacteria.  This is a complicated scenario because krill can be good for bacteria; sloppy feeding produces DOC and krill excrete large amounts of reduced nitrogen and DOC.  Krill also build biomass and respire however, and their large fecal pellets sink quickly, these could be significant losses of carbon from the photic zone.

Antarctica is changing fast and in ways that are difficult to predict.  Sea ice seems to be growing in the east Antarctic as it is lost from the west Antarctic, and anomalous years buck this trend in both regions.  A major motivation for this special issue was to explore how the changing environment might drive ecological change.  I have to say that after spending a good portion of the (boreal) summer and fall thinking about this, some of that time from the vantage point of Palmer Station, I have no idea.  All of the McMurdo Lakes react differently to anomalous years, and Palmer as a region seems to react differently to each of abnormal year.  I think the krill story is an important concept to keep in mind here; ecological responses are like superimposed waveforms.  Picture a regularly occurring phenomenon like the El-Nino Southern Oscillation imposing a periodicity on sea ice cover, which we know has a strong influence on biology.  Add a few more oscillating waves from other physical processes.  Now start to add biological oscillations like the four-year krill abundance cycle.  Can we deconvolute this mess to find a signal?  Can we forecast it forward?  Certainly not with 10 years of data at one site and 20 years at the other (and we’re so proud of these efforts!).  Check back next century… if NSF funds these sites that long…

Many thanks to my co-authors for going the distance on this paper, particularly the lake people for many stimulating arguments.  I think limnology and oceanography are, conceptually, much less similar than lakes and oceans.

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