Not all are free-living: high-throughput DNA metabarcoding reveals a diverse community of protists parasitizing soil metazoa

Stefan Geisen, I. Laros, A. Vizcaíno, M. Bonkowski, G.A. de Groot

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

856 Downloads (Pure)


Protists, the most diverse eukaryotes, are largely considered to be free-living bacterivores, but vast numbers of taxa are known to parasitize plants or animals. High-throughput sequencing (HTS) approaches now commonly replace cultivation-based approaches in studying soil protists, but insights into common biases associated to this method are limited to aquatic taxa and samples. We created a mock community of common free-living soil protists (amoebae, flagellates, ciliates), extracted DNA and amplified it in the presence of metazoan DNA using 454 HTS. We aimed at evaluating whether HTS quantitatively reveals true relative abundances of soil protists and to investigate whether the expected protist community structure is altered by the co-amplification of metazoan-associated protist taxa. Indeed, HTS revealed fundamentally different protist communities from those expected. Ciliate sequences were highly overrepresented, while those of most amoebae and flagellates were underrepresented or totally absent. These results underpin the biases introduced by HTS that prevent reliable quantitative estimations of free-living protist communities. Furthermore, we detected a wide range of non-added protist taxa likely introduced along with metazoan DNA, which altered the protist community structure. Among those, 20 taxa most closely resembled parasitic, often pathogenic taxa. Therewith, we provide the first HTS data in support of classical observational studies that showed that potential protist parasites are hosted by soil metazoa. Taken together, profound differences in amplification success between protist taxa and an inevitable co-extraction of protist taxa parasitizing soil metazoa obscure the true diversity of free-living soil protist communities. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4556-4569
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number17
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Soil protists
  • Soil Metazoan Parasites
  • Potential parasites
  • Apicomplexa
  • 454 Metabarcoding
  • High-throughput sequencing
  • international


Dive into the research topics of 'Not all are free-living: high-throughput DNA metabarcoding reveals a diverse community of protists parasitizing soil metazoa'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this