Metagenomics is the study of the structure and function of entire nucleotide sequences isolated and analyzed from all the organisms (typically microbes) in a bulk sample. Metagenomics is often used to study a specific community of microorganisms, such as those residing on human skin, in the soil or in a water sample. However, the necessity of NGS for studying HGT depends on the scale and context of the investigation.

Next-generation sequencing (NGS) is a powerful tool in studying horizontal gene transfer (HGT) as it enables the high-throughput sequencing of DNA, allowing researchers to analyze entire genomes or metagenomes.

Here are some considerations:

  1. Scale of Study:

    • Microbial Communities: In the study of microbial communities, especially prokaryotic organisms (bacteria and archaea), NGS is instrumental. Metagenomics, a field enabled by NGS, allows researchers to analyze the collective genetic material of entire microbial communities. This is crucial for detecting potential HGT events among microorganisms.

    • Single Organisms: For individual organisms, especially eukaryotes with large genomes, traditional Sanger sequencing or other sequencing methods may be sufficient to study specific genes or genomic regions associated with HGT.

  2. Contextual Differences:

    • Environmental Microbiomes: When studying HGT in complex environmental microbiomes, where diverse microorganisms coexist, NGS becomes essential. It allows researchers to capture the diversity of genetic material in a sample and identify potential donors and recipients of genes.

    • Targeted Studies: In some cases, targeted studies focused on specific genes or pathways may not require the depth and coverage provided by NGS. Here, alternative sequencing methods may be cost-effective and sufficient.

  3. Availability of Resources:

    • Cost and Infrastructure: NGS technologies, while powerful, can be resource-intensive in terms of cost and infrastructure. In contexts where NGS is not feasible due to budget constraints or lack of technical support, alternative methods may be employed.
  4. Data Analysis:

    • Bioinformatics Capabilities: Analyzing NGS data, especially for metagenomics, requires robust bioinformatics capabilities. Researchers need to consider the availability of expertise and tools for handling and interpreting large-scale genomic datasets.

In the context of sociotechnical systems, the decision to use NGS for studying HGT should consider the specific research goals, the organisms or communities under investigation, and the available resources. The integration of biological concepts like HGT with sociotechnical systems involves interdisciplinary collaboration, where biologists, bioinformaticians, and social scientists work together to design and implement studies that align with both biological and societal objectives.