Metagenome-wide association study and machine learning prediction of bulk soil microbiome and crop productivity

Hao Xun Chang, James S. Haudenshield, Charles R. Bowen, Glen L. Hartman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Areas within an agricultural field in the same season often differ in crop productivity despite having the same cropping history, crop genotype, and management practices. One hypothesis is that abiotic or biotic factors in the soils differ between areas resulting in these productivity differences. In this study, bulk soil samples collected from a high and a low productivity area from within six agronomic fields in Illinois were quantified for abiotic and biotic characteristics. Extracted DNA from these bulk soil samples were shotgun sequenced. While logistic regression analyses resulted in no significant association between crop productivity and the 26 soil characteristics, principal coordinate analysis and constrained correspondence analysis showed crop productivity explained a major proportion of the taxa variance in the bulk soil microbiome. Metagenome-wide association studies (MWAS) identified more Bradyrhizodium and Gammaproteobacteria in higher productivity areas and more Actinobacteria, Ascomycota, Planctomycetales, and Streptophyta in lower productivity areas. Machine learning using a random forest method successfully predicted productivity based on the microbiome composition with the best accuracy of 0.79 at the order level. Our study showed that crop productivity differences were associated with bulk soil microbiome composition and highlighted several nitrogen utility-related taxa. We demonstrated the merit of MWAS and machine learning for the first time in a plant-microbiome study.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number519
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Issue numberAPR
StatePublished - Apr 3 2017


  • Machine learning
  • Metagenome-wide association study
  • Microbiome
  • Nitrogen fixation
  • Productivity
  • Random forest
  • Rhizobium
  • Soybeans

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Microbiology (medical)

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