Analysis and correction of compositional bias in sparse sequencing count data

M. Senthil Kumar, Eric V. Slud, Kwame Okrah, Stephanie C. Hicks, Sridhar Hannenhalli, Héctor Corrada Bravo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Background: Count data derived from high-throughput deoxy-ribonucliec acid (DNA) sequencing is frequently used in quantitative molecular assays. Due to properties inherent to the sequencing process, unnormalized count data is compositional, measuring relative and not absolute abundances of the assayed features. This compositional bias confounds inference of absolute abundances. Commonly used count data normalization approaches like library size scaling/rarefaction/subsampling cannot correct for compositional or any other relevant technical bias that is uncorrelated with library size. Results: We demonstrate that existing techniques for estimating compositional bias fail with sparse metagenomic 16S count data and propose an empirical Bayes normalization approach to overcome this problem. In addition, we clarify the assumptions underlying frequently used scaling normalization methods in light of compositional bias, including scaling methods that were not designed directly to address it. Conclusions: Compositional bias, induced by the sequencing machine, confounds inferences of absolute abundances. We present a normalization technique for compositional bias correction in sparse sequencing count data, and demonstrate its improved performance in metagenomic 16s survey data. Based on the distribution of technical bias estimates arising from several publicly available large scale 16s count datasets, we argue that detailed experiments specifically addressing the influence of compositional bias in metagenomics are needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number799
JournalBMC genomics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 6 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Absolute abundance
  • Compositional bias
  • Count data
  • Data integration
  • Empirical Bayes
  • Metagenomics
  • Normalization
  • Spike-in
  • scRNAseq

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Genetics


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