Advances in bioinformatics, refinements of DNA amplification, and the proliferation of computational power have greatly aided the analysis of DNA sequences recovered from environmental samples, allowing the adaptation of shotgun sequencing to metagenomic samples. The approach, used to sequence many cultured microorganisms and the human genome, randomly shears DNA, sequences many short sequences, and reconstructs them into a consensus sequence. Shotgun sequencing and screens of clone libraries reveal genes present in environmental samples. This provides information both on which organisms are present and what metabolic processes are possible in the community. This can be helpful in understanding the ecology of a community, particularly if multiple samples are compared to each other.
Shotgun metagenomics also is capable of sequencing nearly complete microbial genomes directly from the environment. Because the collection of DNA from an environment is largely uncontrolled, the most abundant organisms in an environmental sample are most highly represented in the resulting sequence data. To achieve the high coverage needed to fully resolve the genomes of under-represented community members, large samples, often prohibitively so, are needed. On the other hand, the random nature of shotgun sequencing ensures that many of these organisms, which would otherwise go unnoticed using traditional culturing techniques, will be represented by at least some small sequence segments.