Compression-based distance (CBD): A simple, rapid, and accurate method for microbiota composition comparison

Fang Yang, Nicholas Chia, Bryan A. White, Lawrence B. Schook

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Perturbations in intestinal microbiota composition have been associated with a variety of gastrointestinal tract-related diseases. The alleviation of symptoms has been achieved using treatments that alter the gastrointestinal tract microbiota toward that of healthy individuals. Identifying differences in microbiota composition through the use of 16S rRNA gene hypervariable tag sequencing has profound health implications. Current computational methods for comparing microbial communities are usually based on multiple alignments and phylogenetic inference, making them time consuming and requiring exceptional expertise and computational resources. As sequencing data rapidly grows in size, simpler analysis methods are needed to meet the growing computational burdens of microbiota comparisons. Thus, we have developed a simple, rapid, and accurate method, independent of multiple alignments and phylogenetic inference, to support microbiota comparisons.Results: We create a metric, called compression-based distance (CBD) for quantifying the degree of similarity between microbial communities. CBD uses the repetitive nature of hypervariable tag datasets and well-established compression algorithms to approximate the total information shared between two datasets. Three published microbiota datasets were used as test cases for CBD as an applicable tool. Our study revealed that CBD recaptured 100% of the statistically significant conclusions reported in the previous studies, while achieving a decrease in computational time required when compared to similar tools without expert user intervention.Conclusion: CBD provides a simple, rapid, and accurate method for assessing distances between gastrointestinal tract microbiota 16S hypervariable tag datasets.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number136
JournalBMC bioinformatics
StatePublished - Apr 23 2013


  • Compression-based distance
  • Microbiome analysis
  • Microbiota comparison

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Applied Mathematics
  • Structural Biology


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