Quantitative Comparison of Abundance Structures of Generalized Communities : From B-Cell Receptor Repertoires to Microbiomes

The community, the assemblage of organisms co-existing in a given space and time, has the potential to become one of the unifying concepts of biology, especially with the advent of high-throughput sequencing experiments that reveal genetic diversity exhaustively. In this spirit we show that a tool from community ecology, the Rank Abundance Distribution (RAD), can be turned by the new MaxRank normalization method into a generic, expressive descriptor for quantitative comparison of communities in many areas of biology. To illustrate the versatility of the method, we analyze RADs from various generalized communities, i.e. assemblages of genetically diverse cells or organisms, including human B cells, gut microbiomes under antibiotic treatment and of different ages and countries of origin, and other human and environmental microbial communities. We show that normalized RADs enable novel quantitative approaches that help to understand structures and dynamics of complex generalized communities.


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