Variance component selection with applications to microbiome taxonomic data

Jing Zhai, Juhyun Kim, Kenneth S. Knox, Homer L. Twigg, Hua Zhou, Jin J. Zhou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


High-throughput sequencing technology has enabled population-based studies of the role of the human microbiome in disease etiology and exposure response. Microbiome data are summarized as counts or composition of the bacterial taxa at different taxonomic levels. An important problem is to identify the bacterial taxa that are associated with a response. One method is to test the association of specific taxon with phenotypes in a linear mixed effect model, which incorporates phylogenetic information among bacterial communities. Another type of approaches consider all taxa in a joint model and achieves selection via penalization method, which ignores phylogenetic information. In this paper, we consider regression analysis by treating bacterial taxa at different level as multiple random effects. For each taxon, a kernel matrix is calculated based on distance measures in the phylogenetic tree and acts as one variance component in the joint model. Then taxonomic selection is achieved by the lasso (least absolute shrinkage and selection operator) penalty on variance components. Our method integrates biological information into the variable selection problem and greatly improves selection accuracies. Simulation studies demonstrate the superiority of our methods versus existing methods, for example, group-lasso. Finally, we apply our method to a longitudinal microbiome study of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infected patients. We implement our method using the high performance computing language Julia. Software and detailed documentation are freely available at

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number509
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Issue numberMAR
StatePublished - Mar 28 2018


  • Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
  • Lasso
  • Longitudinal study
  • Lung microbiome
  • MM-algorithm
  • Variable selection
  • Variance component models

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Microbiology (medical)


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