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William Katzka, Tien S. Dong, Kayti Luu, Venu Lagishetty, Farzaneh Sedighian, Nerea Arias-Jayo, Jonathan P. Jacobs, Hugo Y. Hsu; The Ocular Microbiome Is Altered by Sampling Modality and Age. Trans. Vis. Sci. Tech. 2021;10(12):24. https://doi.org/10.1167/tvst.10.12.24.
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Studies of the ocular microbiome have used a variety of sampling techniques, but no study has directly compared different sampling methods applied to the same eyes to one another or to a reference standard of corneal epithelial biopsy. We addressed this lack by comparing the microbiome from three conjunctival swabs with those of corneal epithelial biopsy.
Twelve eyes (11 patients) were swabbed by calcium alginate swab, cotton-tipped applicator, and Weck-Cel cellulose sponge before a corneal epithelial biopsy (48 samples). We then performed 16S rRNA gene sequencing and universal 16S rRNA gene real-time polymerase chain reaction. Negative/blank controls were used to eliminate contaminants. An analysis was performed to examine the concordance of the three swab types to corneal epithelial biopsy. The effect of patient age on the ocular microbiome as determined by epithelial biopsy was also examined.
The ocular microbiome from corneal epithelial biopsies consisted of 31 genera with a relative abundance of 1% or more, including Weisella, Corynebacterium, and Pseudomonas. Of the three swab types, Weck-Cel differed the most from corneal biopsies based on beta-diversity analysis. Cotton swabs were unable to capture the Bacteroides population seen on epithelial biopsy. Therefore, calcium alginate swabs seemed to be the closest to epithelial biopsies. Older patients (≥65 years old) had higher alpha diversity (P < 0.05) than younger patients. Differential abundance testing showed that there were 18 genera that were differentially abundant between the two age groups, including Streptococcus and eight members of the Proteobacteria phylum.
We demonstrate that ocular sampling method and patient age can greatly affect the outcome of sequencing-based analysis of the ocular microbiome.
By understanding the impact of different sampling methods on the results obtained from the ocular surface microbiome, future research on the topic will be more reproducible, leading to a better understanding of ocular surface microbiome in health and disease.
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