Absolute quantification of microbial taxon abundances

Ruben Props, Frederiek-Maarten Kerckhof, Peter Rubbens, Jo De Vrieze, Emma Hernandez Sanabria, Willem Waegeman, Pieter Monsieurs, Frederik Hammes, Nico Boon

Research output: Contribution to journalA1: Web of Science-articlepeer-review


High-throughput amplicon sequencing has become a well-established approach for microbial community profiling. Correlating shifts in the relative abundances of bacterial taxa with environmental gradients is the goal of many microbiome surveys. As the abundances generated by this technology are semi-quantitative by definition, the observed dynamics may not accurately reflect those of the actual taxon densities. We combined the sequencing approach (16S rRNA gene) with robust single-cell enumeration technologies (flow cytometry) to quantify the absolute taxon abundances. A detailed longitudinal analysis of the absolute abundances resulted in distinct abundance profiles that were less ambiguous and expressed in units that can be directly compared across studies. We further provide evidence that the enrichment of taxa (increase in relative abundance) does not necessarily relate to the outgrowth of taxa (increase in absolute abundance). Our results highlight that both relative and absolute abundances should be considered for a comprehensive biological interpretation of microbiome surveys.

Original languageEnglish
JournalThe ISME journal
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)584-587
Number of pages4
Publication statusPublished - Feb-2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Bacteria/classification
  • Biodiversity
  • DNA, Bacterial/chemistry
  • DNA, Ribosomal/chemistry
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Microbiota
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA


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