Publications in peer reviewed journals
Capturing the genetic makeup of the active microbiome in situ2017 - ISME J, in press
More than any other technology, nucleic acid sequencing has enabled microbial ecology studies to be complemented with the data volumes necessary to capture the extent of microbial diversity and dynamics in a wide range of environments. In order to truly understand and predict environmental processes, however, the distinction between active, inactive and dead microbial cells is critical. Also, experimental designs need to be sensitive towards varying population complexity and activity, and temporal as well as spatial scales of process rates. There are a number of approaches, including single cell techniques, that were designed to study in situ microbial activity and that have been successively coupled to nucleic acid sequencing. The exciting new discoveries regarding in situ microbial activity provide evidence that future microbial ecology studies will indispensably rely on techniques that specifically capture members of the microbiome active in the environment. Herein we review those currently used activity-based approaches that can be directly linked to shotgun nucleic acid sequencing, evaluate their relevance to ecology studies, and discuss future directions.
Lifestyle and horizontal gene transfer-mediated evolution of Mucispirillum schaedleri, a core member of the murine gut microbiota2017 - mSystems, 2: e00171-16
Mucispirillum schaedleri is an abundant inhabitant of the intestinal mucus layer of rodents and other animals and has been suggested to be a pathobiont, a commensal that plays a role in disease. In order to gain insights into its lifestyle, we analyzed the genome and transcriptome of M. schaedleri ASF 457 and performed physiological experiments to test traits predicted by its genome. Although described as a mucus inhabitant, M. schaedleri has limited capacity for degrading host-derived mucosal glycans and other complex polysaccharides. Additionally, M. schaedleri reduces nitrate and expresses systems for scavenging oxygen and reactive oxygen species in vivo, which may account for its localization close to the mucosal tissue and expansion during inflammation. Also of note, M. schaedleri harbors a type VI secretion system and putative effector proteins and can modify gene expression in mucosal tissue, suggesting intimate interactions with its host and a possible role in inflammation. The M. schaedleri genome has been shaped by extensive horizontal gene transfer, primarily from intestinal Epsilon- and Deltaproteobacteria, indicating that horizontal gene transfer has played a key role in defining its niche in the gut ecosystem.
Hidden potential: Diet-driven changes in redox level shape the rumen microbiome2017 - Environmental Microbiology, 1: 19-20
The unexpected versatility of the cellulosome2017 - Environmental Microbiology, 1: 13-14
Crenothrix are major methane consumers in stratified lakes2017 - ISME J, in press
Methane-oxidizing bacteria represent a major biological sink for methane (Oremland and Culbertson 1992) and are thus Earth’s natural protection against this potent greenhouse gas. Here we show that in two stratified freshwater lakes a substantial part of upward-diffusing methane was oxidized by filamentous gamma-proteobacteria related to Crenothrix polyspora. These filamentous bacteria have been known as contaminants of drinking water supplies since 1870 (Cohn 1870) but their role in the environmental methane removal has remained unclear. While oxidizing methane, these organisms were assigned an ‘unusual’ methane monooxygenase (MMO) which was only distantly related to ‘classical’ MMO of gamma-proteobacterial methanotrophs (Stoecker et al., 2006). We now correct this assignment and show that C. polyspora as well as its lacustrine relative encode a typical gamma-proteobacterial pmoA. Stable-isotope labeling in combination with single-cell imaging mass spectrometry revealed methane-dependent growth of the lacustrine Crenothrix with oxygen as well as under oxygen-deficient conditions. Concurrently, Crenothrix genomes encoded pathways for the respiration of oxygen as well as for the reduction of nitrate to N2O. Due to their large biomass and rapid planktonic growth Crenothrix might constitute a major biological sink for methane and should be considered in the context of environmental removal of methane.
Astrobiology as a framework for investigating antibiotic susceptibility: a study of Halomonas hydrothermalis2017 - J R Soc Interface, 126: in press
Physical and chemical boundaries for microbial multiplication on Earth are strongly influenced by interactions between environmental extremes. However, little is known about how interactions between multiple stress parameters affect the sensitivity of microorganisms to antibiotics. Here, we assessed how 12 distinct permutations of salinity, availability of an essential nutrient (iron) and atmospheric composition (aerobic or microaerobic) affect the susceptibility of a polyextremotolerant bacterium, Halomonas hydrothermalis, to ampicillin, kanamycin and ofloxacin. While salinity had a significant impact on sensitivity to all three antibiotics (as shown by turbidimetric analyses), the nature of this impact was modified by iron availability and the ambient gas composition, with differing effects observed for each compound. These two parameters were found to be of particular importance when considered in combination and, in the case of ampicillin, had a stronger combined influence on antibiotic tolerance than salinity. Our data show how investigating microbial responses to multiple extremes, which are more representative of natural habitats than single extremes, can improve our understanding of the effects of antimicrobial compounds and suggest how studies of habitability, motivated by the desire to map the limits of life, can be used to systematically assess the effectiveness of antibiotics.
Cultivation and characterization of Candidatus Nitrosocosmicus exaquare, an ammonia-oxidizing archaeon from a municipal wastewater treatment system2017 - ISME J, in press
Thaumarchaeota have been detected in several industrial and municipal wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs), despite the fact that ammonia-oxidizing archaea (AOA) are thought to be adapted to low ammonia conditions. The activity, physiology, and metabolism of WWTP-associated AOA remains poorly understood. We report here the cultivation and complete genome sequence of Candidatus Nitrosocosmicus exaquare, a novel AOA representative from a municipal WWTP in Guelph, Ontario (Canada). In enrichment culture, Ca. N. exaquare oxidizes ammonia to nitrite stoichiometrically, is mesophilic, and tolerates at least 15 mM of ammonium chloride or sodium nitrite. Microautoradiography (MAR) for enrichment cultures demonstrates that Ca. N. exaquare assimilates bicarbonate in association with ammonia oxidation. However, despite using inorganic carbon, the ammonia-oxidizing activity of Ca. N. exaquare is greatly stimulated in enrichment culture by the addition of organic compounds, especially malate and succinate. Ca. N. exaquare cells are coccoid with a diameter of approximately 1-2 µm. Phylogenetically, Ca. N. exaquare belongs to the Nitrososphaera sister cluster within the Group 1.Ib Thaumarchaeota, a lineage which includes most other reported AOA sequences from municipal and industrial WWTPs. The 2.99 Mbp genome of Ca. N. exaquare encodes pathways for ammonia oxidation, bicarbonate fixation, and urea transport and breakdown. In addition, this genome encodes several key genes for dealing with oxidative stress, including peroxidase and catalase. Incubations of WWTP biofilm demonstrate partial inhibition of ammonia-oxidizing activity by 2-phenyl-4,4,5,5-tetramethylimidazoline-1-oxyl 3-oxide (PTIO), suggesting that Ca. N. exaquare-like AOA might contribute to nitrification in situ. However, CARD-FISH-microautoradiography showed no incorporation of bicarbonate by detected Thaumarchaeaota, suggesting that detected AOA may incorporate non-bicarbonate carbon sources or rely on an alternative, yet unknown metabolism.
Variant profiling of evolving prokaryotic populations.2017 - PeerJ, e2997
Genomic heterogeneity of bacterial species is observed and studied in experimental evolution experiments and clinical diagnostics, and occurs as micro-diversity of natural habitats. The challenge for genome research is to accurately capture this heterogeneity with the currently used short sequencing reads. Recent advances in NGS technologies improved the speed and coverage and thus allowed for deep sequencing of bacterial populations. This facilitates the quantitative assessment of genomic heterogeneity, including low frequency alleles or haplotypes. However, false positive variant predictions due to sequencing errors and mapping artifacts of short reads need to be prevented. We therefore created VarCap, a workflow for the reliable prediction of different types of variants even at low frequencies. In order to predict SNPs, InDels and structural variations, we evaluated the sensitivity and accuracy of different software tools using synthetic read data. The results suggested that the best sensitivity could be reached by a union of different tools, however at the price of increased false positives. We identified possible reasons for false predictions and used this knowledge to improve the accuracy by post-filtering the predicted variants according to properties such as frequency, coverage, genomic environment/localization and co-localization with other variants. We observed that best precision was achieved by using an intersection of at least two tools per variant. This resulted in the reliable prediction of variants above a minimum relative abundance of 2%. VarCap is designed for being routinely used within experimental evolution experiments or for clinical diagnostics. The detected variants are reported as frequencies within a VCF file and as a graphical overview of the distribution of the different variant/allele/haplotype frequencies. The source code of VarCap is available at https://github.com/ma2o/VarCap. In order to provide this workflow to a broad community, we implemeted VarCap on a Galaxy webserver, which is accessible at http://galaxy.csb.univie.ac.at.
Genomic repertoire of the Woeseiaceae/JTB255, cosmopolitan and abundant core members of microbial communities in marine sediments.2017 - ISME J, in press
To date, very little is known about the bacterial core community of marine sediments. Here we study the environmental distribution, abundance and ecogenomics of the gammaproteobacterial Woeseiaceae/JTB255 marine benthic group. A meta-analysis of published work shows that the Woeseiaceae/JTB255 are ubiquitous and consistently rank among the most abundant 16S rRNA gene sequences in diverse marine sediments. They account for up to 22% of bacterial amplicons and 6% of total cell counts in European and Australian coastal sediments. The analysis of a single-cell genome, metagenomic bins and the genome of the next cultured relative Woeseia oceani indicated a broad physiological range, including heterotrophy and facultative autotrophy. All tested (meta)genomes encode a truncated denitrification pathway to nitrous oxide. The broad range of energy-yielding metabolisms possibly explains the ubiquity and high abundance of Woeseiaceae/JTB255 in marine sediments, where they carry out diverse, but yet unknown ecological functions.The ISME Journal advance online publication, 6 January 2017; doi:10.1038/ismej.2016.185.
Microbial nutrient niches in the gut2017 - Environ. Microbiol., in press
The composition and function of the mammalian gut microbiota has been the subject of much research in recent years, but the principles underlying the assembly and structure of this complex community remain incompletely understood. Processes that shape the gut microbiota are thought to be mostly niche-driven, with environmental factors such as the composition of available nutrients largely determining whether or not an organism can establish. The concept that the nutrient landscape dictates which organisms can successfully colonize and persist in the gut was first proposed in Rolf Freter's nutrient niche theory. In a situation where nutrients are perfectly mixed and there is balanced microbial growth, Freter postulated that an organism can only survive if it is able to utilize one or a few limiting nutrients more efficiently than its competitors. Recent experimental work indicates, however, that nutrients in the gut vary in space and time. We propose that in such a scenario, Freter's nutrient niche theory must be expanded to account for the co-existence of microorganisms utilizing the same nutrients but in distinct sites or at different times, and that metabolic flexibility and mixed-substrate utilization are common strategies for survival in the face of ever-present nutrient fluctuations.
A 12-week intervention with nonivamide, a TRPV1 agonist, prevents a dietary-induced body fat gain and increases peripheral serotonin in moderately overweight subjects2017 - Mol Nutr Food Res, in press
A bolus administration of 0.15 mg nonivamide has previously been demonstrated to reduce energy intake in moderately overweight men. This 12-week intervention investigated whether a daily consumption of nonivamide in a protein-based product formulation promotes a reduction in body weight in healthy overweight subjects, and affects outcome measures associated with mechanisms regulating food intake, e.g. plasma concentrations of an-/orexigenic hormones, energy substrates as well as changes in fecal microbiota .
Nineteen overweight subjects were randomly assigned to either a control (C) or a nonivamide group (NV). Changes in the body composition and plasma concentrations of satiating hormones were determined at fasting and 15, 30, 60, 90 and 120 min after a glucose load. Participants were instructed to consume 0.15 mg nonivamide per day in 450 mL of a milk shake additionally to their habitual diet. After treatment, a group difference in body fat mass change (- 0.61 ± 0.36 % in NV and + 1.36 ± 0.38 % in C), and an increase in postprandial plasma serotonin were demonstrated. Plasma metabolome and fecal microbiome read outs were not affected.
A daily intake of 0.15 mg nonivamide helps to support to maintain a healthy body composition. Nonivamide, a less-pungent capsaicin analog, was studied for its potential as an anti-obesity agent in a 12-week human intervention study. The body composition was determined at the beginning and in the end of intervention. Moreover, plasma concentrations of satiating hormones were measured Participants were instructed to drink the product formulation three times daily. After treatment, a group difference in body fat mass change, and an increase in postprandial plasma serotonin concentrations were determined in the nonivamide group. Thus, we suppose that a daily intake of nonivamide might help to maintain a healthy body composition. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
Convergent patterns in the evolution of mealybug symbioses involving different intrabacterial symbionts.2017 - ISME J, 3: 715-726
Mealybugs (Insecta: Hemiptera: Pseudococcidae) maintain obligatory relationships with bacterial symbionts, which provide essential nutrients to their insect hosts. Most pseudococcinae mealybugs harbor a unique symbiosis setup with enlarged betaproteobacterial symbionts ('Candidatus Tremblaya princeps'), which themselves contain gammaproteobacterial symbionts. Here we investigated the symbiosis of the manna mealybug, Trabutina mannipara, using a metagenomic approach. Phylogenetic analyses revealed that the intrabacterial symbiont of T. mannipara represents a novel lineage within the Gammaproteobacteria, for which we propose the tentative name 'Candidatus Trabutinella endobia'. Combining our results with previous data available for the nested symbiosis of the citrus mealybug Planococcus citri, we show that synthesis of essential amino acids and vitamins and translation-related functions partition between the symbiotic partners in a highly similar manner in the two systems, despite the distinct evolutionary origin of the intrabacterial symbionts. Bacterial genes found in both mealybug genomes and complementing missing functions in both symbioses were likely integrated in ancestral mealybugs before T. mannipara and P. citri diversified. The high level of correspondence between the two mealybug systems and their highly intertwined metabolic pathways are unprecedented. Our work contributes to a better understanding of the only known intracellular symbiosis between two bacteria and suggests that the evolution of this unique symbiosis included the replacement of intrabacterial symbionts in ancestral mealybugs.
Happens in the best of subfamilies: establishment and repeated replacements of co-obligate secondary endosymbionts within Lachninae aphids.2017 - Environ. Microbiol., 1: 393-408
Virtually all aphids maintain an obligate mutualistic symbiosis with bacteria from the Buchnera genus, which produce essential nutrients for their aphid hosts. Most aphids from the Lachninae subfamily have been consistently found to house additional endosymbionts, mainly Serratia symbiotica. This apparent dependence on secondary endosymbionts was proposed to have been triggered by the loss of the riboflavin biosynthetic capability by Buchnera in the Lachninae last common ancestor. However, an integral large-scale analysis of secondary endosymbionts in the Lachninae is still missing, hampering the interpretation of the evolutionary and genomic analyses of these endosymbionts. Here, we analysed the endosymbionts of selected representatives from seven different Lachninae genera and nineteen species, spanning four tribes, both by FISH (exploring the symbionts' morphology and tissue tropism) and 16S rRNA gene sequencing. We demonstrate that all analysed aphids possess dual symbiotic systems, and while most harbour S. symbiotica, some have undergone symbiont replacement by other phylogenetically-distinct bacterial taxa. We found that these secondary associates display contrasting cell shapes and tissue tropism, and some appear to be lineage-specific. We propose a scenario for symbiont establishment in the Lachninae, followed by changes in the symbiont's tissue tropism and symbiont replacement events, thereby highlighting the extraordinary versatility of host-symbiont interactions.
Metabolic and physiological interdependencies in the Bathymodiolus azoricus symbiosis.2017 - ISME J, 11: 463–477
The hydrothermal vent mussel Bathymodiolus azoricus lives in an intimate symbiosis with two types of chemosynthetic Gammaproteobacteria in its gills: a sulfur oxidizer and a methane oxidizer. Despite numerous investigations over the last decades, the degree of interdependence between the three symbiotic partners, their individual metabolic contributions, as well as the mechanism of carbon transfer from the symbionts to the host are poorly understood. We used a combination of proteomics and genomics to investigate the physiology and metabolism of the individual symbiotic partners. Our study revealed that key metabolic functions are most likely accomplished jointly by B. azoricus and its symbionts: (1) CO2 is pre-concentrated by the host for carbon fixation by the sulfur-oxidizing symbiont, and (2) the host replenishes essential biosynthetic TCA cycle intermediates for the sulfur-oxidizing symbiont. In return (3), the sulfur oxidizer may compensate for the host's putative deficiency in amino acid and cofactor biosynthesis. We also identified numerous 'symbiosis-specific' host proteins by comparing symbiont-containing and symbiont-free host tissues and symbiont fractions. These proteins included a large complement of host digestive enzymes in the gill that are likely involved in symbiont digestion and carbon transfer from the symbionts to the host.The ISME Journal advance online publication, 1 November 2016; doi:10.1038/ismej.2016.124.
Stable isotope techniques for the assessment of host and microbiota response during gastrointestinal dysfunction2017 - J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr, 64: 8-14
The International Atomic Energy Agency convened a technical meeting on environmental enteric dysfunction (EED) in Vienna (28th – 30th October 2015; https://nucleus.iaea.org/HHW/Nutrition/EED_Technical_Meeting/index.html) to bring together international experts in the fields of EED, nutrition and stable isotope technologies. Advances in stable isotope labelling techniques open up new possibilities to improve our understanding of gastrointestinal dysfunction and the role of the microbiota in host health. In the context of EED, little is known about the role gut dysfunction may play in macro- and micronutrient bioavailability and requirements and what the consequences may be for nutritional status and linear growth. Stable isotope labelling techniques have been used to assess intestinal mucosal injury and barrier function, carbohydrate digestion and fermentation, protein derived amino acid bioavailability and requirements, micronutrient bioavailability and to track microbe-microbe and microbe-host interactions at the single cell level. The non-invasive nature of stable isotope technologies potentially allows for low-hazard, field deployable tests of gut dysfunction that are applicable across all age-groups. The purpose of this review is to assess the state-of-the-art in the use of stable isotope technologies and to provide a perspective on where these technologies can be exploited to further our understanding of gut dysfunction in EED.
Pediatric obesity is associated with an altered gut microbiota and discordant shifts in Firmicutes populations2017 - Environ. Microbiol., 1: 95-105
An altered gut microbiota has been linked to obesity in adulthood, although little is known about childhood obesity. The aim of this study was to characterize the composition of the gut microbiota in obese (n = 42) and normal-weight (n = 36) children aged 6 to 16. Using 16S rRNA gene-targeted sequencing, we evaluated taxa with differential abundance according to age- and sex-normalized body mass index (BMI z-score). Obesity was associated with an altered gut microbiota characterized by elevated levels of Firmicutes and depleted levels of Bacteroidetes. Correlation network analysis revealed that the gut microbiota of obese children also had increased correlation density and clustering of operational taxonomic units (OTUs). Members of the Bacteroidetes were generally better predictors of BMI z-score and obesity than Firmicutes, which was likely due to discordant responses of Firmicutes OTUs. In accordance with these observations, the main metabolites produced by gut bacteria, short chain fatty acids (SCFAs), were higher in obese children, suggesting elevated substrate utilisation. Multiple taxa were correlated with SCFA levels, reinforcing the tight link between the microbiota, SCFAs and obesity. Our results suggest that gut microbiota dysbiosis and elevated fermentation activity may be involved in the etiology of childhood obesity.