Oligonucleotide signatures, especially tetranucleotide signatures, have been used as method for homology binning by exploiting an organism's inherent biases towards the use of specific oligonucleotide words. Tetranucleotide signatures have been especially useful in environmental metagenomics samples as many of these samples contain organisms from poorly classified phyla which cannot be easily identified using traditional homology methods, including NCBI BLAST. This study examines oligonucleotide signatures across 1,424 completed genomes from across the tree of life, substantially expanding upon previous work. A comprehensive analysis of mononucleotide through nonanucleotide word lengths suggests that longer word lengths substantially improve the classification of DNA fragments across a range of sizes of relevance to high throughput sequencing. We find that, at present, heptanucleotide signatures represent an optimal balance between prediction accuracy and computational time for resolving taxonomy using both genomic and metagenomic fragments. We directly compare the ability of tetranucleotide and heptanucleotide world lengths (tetranucleotide signatures are the current standard for oligonucleotide word usage analyses) for taxonomic binning of metagenome reads. We present evidence that heptanucleotide word lengths consistently provide more taxonomic resolving power, particularly in distinguishing between closely related organisms that are often present in metagenomic samples. This implies that longer oligonucleotide word lengths should replace tetranucleotide signatures for most analyses. Finally, we show that the application of longer word lengths to metagenomic datasets leads to more accurate taxonomic binning of DNA scaffolds and have the potential to substantially improve taxonomic assignment and assembly of metagenomic data.
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