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  • A Genome-Scale Metabolic Model of Marine Heterotroph Vibrio splendidus Strain 1A01

    Iffland-Stettner, A, Okano H, Gralka M, Guessous G, Amarnath K, Cordero OX, Hwa T, and Bonhoeffer S

    , 2023, mSystems

    While Vibrio splendidus is best known as an opportunistic pathogen in oysters, Vibrio splendidus strain 1A01 was first identified as an early colonizer of synthetic chitin particles incubated in seawater. To gain a better understanding of its metabolism, a genome-scale metabolic model (GSMM) of V. splendidus 1A01 was reconstructed. GSMMs enable us to simulate all metabolic reactions in a bacterial cell using flux balance analysis. A draft model was built using an automated pipeline from BioCyc. Manual curation was then performed based on experimental data, in part by gap-filling metabolic pathways and tailoring the model’s biomass reaction to V. splendidus 1A01. The challenges of building a metabolic model for a marine microorganism like V. splendidus 1A01 are described.

  • Functional annotation and importance of marine bacterial transporters of plankton exometabolite

    Schroer WF, Kepner HE, Uchimiya M, Mejia C, Trujillo Rodriguez L, Reisch CR, and Moran MA

    , 2023, ISME Communications, 3: 37

    Metabolite exchange within marine microbial communities transfers carbon and other major elements through global cycles and forms the basis of microbial interactions. Yet lack of gene annotations and concern about the quality of existing ones remain major impediments to revealing currencies of carbon flux. We employed an arrayed mutant library of the marine bacterium Ruegeria pomeroyi DSS-3 to experimentally annotate substrates of organic compound transporter systems, using mutant growth and compound drawdown analyses to link transporters to their cognate substrates. Mutant experiments verified substrates for thirteen R. pomeroyi transporters. Four were previously hypothesized based on gene expression data (taurine, glucose/xylose, isethionate, and cadaverine/putrescine/spermidine); five were previously hypothesized based on homology to experimentally annotated transporters in other bacteria (citrate, glycerol, N-acetylglucosamine, fumarate/malate/succinate, and dimethylsulfoniopropionate); and four had no previous annotations (thymidine, carnitine, cysteate, and 3-hydroxybutyrate). These bring the total number of experimentally-verified organic carbon influx transporters to 18 of 126 in the R. pomeroyi genome. In a longitudinal study of a coastal phytoplankton bloom, expression patterns of the experimentally annotated transporters linked them to different stages of the bloom, and also led to the hypothesis that citrate and 3-hydroxybutyrate were among the most highly available bacterial substrates. Improved functional annotation of the gatekeepers of organic carbon uptake is critical for deciphering carbon flux and fate in microbial ecosystems.

  • Mutation-induced infections of phage-plasmids

    Shan X, Szabo RE, and Cordero OX

    , 2023, Nature Communications, 14:2049

    Phage-plasmids are extra-chromosomal elements that act both as plasmids and as phages, whose eco-evolutionary dynamics remain poorly constrained. Here, we show that segregational drift and loss-of-function mutations play key roles in the infection dynamics of a cosmopolitan phage-plasmid, allowing it to create continuous productive infections in a population of marine Roseobacter. Recurrent loss-of-function mutations in the phage repressor that controls prophage induction leads to constitutively lytic phage-plasmids that spread rapidly throughout the population. The entire phage-plasmid genome is packaged into virions, which were horizontally transferred by re-infecting lysogenized cells, leading to an increase in phage-plasmid copy number and to heterozygosity in a phage repressor locus in re-infected cells. However, the uneven distribution of phage-plasmids after cell division (i.e., segregational drift) leads to the production of offspring carrying only the constitutively lytic phage-plasmid, thus restarting the lysis-reinfection-segregation life cycle. Mathematical models and experiments show that these dynamics lead to a continuous productive infection of the bacterial population, in which lytic and lysogenic phage-plasmids coexist. Furthermore, analyses of marine bacterial genome sequences indicate that the plasmid backbone here can carry different phages and disseminates trans-continentally. Our study highlights how the interplay between phage infection and plasmid genetics provides a unique eco-evolutionary strategy for phage-plasmids.

  • Annotation-free discovery of functional groups in microbial communities

    Shan X, Goyal A, Gregor R, and Cordero OX

    , 2023, Nature Ecololgy and Evolution, 5: 1424–1434

    Recent studies have shown that microbial communities are composed of groups of functionally cohesive taxa whose abundance is more stable and better-associated with metabolic fluxes than that of any individual taxon. However, identifying these functional groups in a manner that is independent of error-prone functional gene annotations remains a major open problem. Here we tackle this structure–function problem by developing a novel unsupervised approach that coarse-grains taxa into functional groups, solely on the basis of the patterns of statistical variation in species abundances and functional read-outs. We demonstrate the power of this approach on three distinct datasets. On data of replicate microcosms with heterotrophic soil bacteria, our unsupervised algorithm recovered experimentally validated functional groups that divide metabolic labour and remain stable despite large variation in species composition. When leveraged against the ocean microbiome data, our approach discovered a functional group that combines aerobic and anaerobic ammonia oxidizers whose summed abundance tracks closely with nitrate concentrations in the water column. Finally, we show that our framework can enable the detection of species groups that are probably responsible for the production or consumption of metabolites abundant in animal gut microbiomes, serving as a hypothesis-generating tool for mechanistic studies. Overall, this work advances our understanding of structure–function relationships in complex microbiomes and provides a powerful approach to discover functional groups in an objective and systematic manner.

  • A mutant fitness assay identifies bacterial interactions in a model ocean hot spot

    Schreirer JE, Smith CB, Ioerger TR, and Moran MA

    , 2023, PNAS, 120(12): e2217200120

    Bacteria that assemble in phycospheres surrounding living phytoplankton cells metabolize a substantial proportion of ocean primary productivity. Yet the type and extent of interactions occurring among species that colonize these micron-scale “hot spot” environments are challenging to study. We identified genes that mediate bacterial interactions in phycosphere communities by culturing a transposon mutant library of copiotrophic bacterium Ruegeria pomeroyi DSS-3 with the diatom Thalassiosira pseudonana CCMP1335 as the sole source of organic matter in the presence or absence of other heterotrophic bacterial species. The function of genes having significant effects on R. pomeroyi fitness indicated explicit cell–cell interactions initiated in the multibacterial phycospheres. We found that R. pomeroyi simultaneously competed for shared substrates while increasing reliance on substrates that did not support the other species’ growth. Fitness outcomes also indicated that the bacterium competed for nitrogen in the forms of ammonium and amino acids; obtained purines, pyrimidines, and cofactors via crossfeeding; both initiated and defended antagonistic interactions; and sensed an environment with altered oxygen and superoxide levels. The large genomes characteristic of copiotrophic marine bacteria are hypothesized to enable responses to dynamic ecological challenges occurring at the scale of microns. Here, we discover >200 nonessential genes implicated in the management of fitness costs and benefits of membership in a globally significant bacterial community.

  • Cell aggregation is associated with enzyme secretion strategies in marine polysaccharide-degrading bacteria

    D’Souza G, Ebrahimi A, Stubbusch A, Daniels M, Keegstra J, Stocker R, Cordero O, and Ackermann M

    , 2023, ISME Journal

    Polysaccharide breakdown by bacteria requires the activity of enzymes that degrade polymers either intra- or extra-cellularly. The latter mechanism generates a localized pool of breakdown products that are accessible to the enzyme producers themselves as well as to other organisms. Marine bacterial taxa often show marked differences in the production and secretion of degradative enzymes that break down polysaccharides. These differences can have profound effects on the pool of diffusible breakdown products and hence on the ecological dynamics. However, the consequences of differences in enzymatic secretions on cellular growth dynamics and interactions are unclear. Here we study growth dynamics of single cells within populations of marine Vibrionaceae strains that grow on the abundant marine polymer alginate, using microfluidics coupled to quantitative single-cell analysis and mathematical modelling. We find that strains that have low extracellular secretions of alginate lyases aggregate more strongly than strains that secrete high levels of enzymes. One plausible reason for this observation is that low secretors require a higher cellular density to achieve maximal growth rates in comparison with high secretors. Our findings indicate that increased aggregation increases intercellular synergy amongst cells of low-secreting strains. By mathematically modelling the impact of the level of degradative enzyme secretion on the rate of diffusive oligomer loss, we find that enzymatic secretion capability modulates the propensity of cells within clonal populations to cooperate or compete with each other. Our experiments and models demonstrate that enzymatic secretion capabilities can be linked with the propensity of cell aggregation in marine bacteria that extracellularly catabolize polysaccharides.

  • Encounter rates prime interactions between microorganisms

    Slomka J, Alcolombri U, Carrara F, Foffi R, Peaudecerf FJ, Zbinden M, and Stocker R

    , 2023, Interface Focus, 13: 20220059

    Properties of microbial communities emerge from the interactions between microorganisms and between microorganisms and their environment. At the scale of the organisms, microbial interactions are multi-step processes that are initiated by cell–cell or cell–resource encounters. Quantification and rational design of microbial interactions thus require quantification of encounter rates. Encounter rates can often be quantified through encounter kernels—mathematical formulae that capture the dependence of encounter rates on cell phenotypes, such as cell size, shape, density or motility, and environmental conditions, such as turbulence intensity or viscosity. While encounter kernels have been studied for over a century, they are often not sufficiently considered in descriptions of microbial populations. Furthermore, formulae for kernels are known only in a small number of canonical encounter scenarios. Yet, encounter kernels can guide experimental efforts to control microbial interactions by elucidating how encounter rates depend on key phenotypic and environmental variables. Encounter kernels also provide physically grounded estimates for parameters that are used in ecological models of microbial populations. We illustrate this encounter-oriented perspective on microbial interactions by reviewing traditional and recently identified kernels describing encounters between microorganisms and between microorganisms and resources in aquatic systems.

  • Chemotaxis increases metabolic exchanges between marine picophytoplankton and heterotrophic bacteria

    Raina J-P, Giardina M, Brumley DR, Clode PL, Pernice M, Guagliardo P, Bougoure J, Mendis H, Smriga S, Sonneschein EC, Ullrich MS, Stocker R, Seymour JR

    , 2023, Nature Microbiology, 8: 510-521

    Behaviours such as chemotaxis can facilitate metabolic exchanges between phytoplankton and heterotrophic bacteria, which ultimately regulate oceanic productivity and biogeochemistry. However, numerically dominant picophytoplankton have been considered too small to be detected by chemotactic bacteria, implying that cell–cell interactions might not be possible between some of the most abundant organisms in the ocean. Here we examined how bacterial behaviour influences metabolic exchanges at the single-cell level between the ubiquitous picophytoplankton Synechococcus and the heterotrophic bacterium Marinobacter adhaerens, using bacterial mutants deficient in motility and chemotaxis. Stable-isotope tracking revealed that chemotaxis increased nitrogen and carbon uptake of both partners by up to 4.4-fold. A mathematical model following thousands of cells confirmed that short periods of exposure to small but nutrient-rich microenvironments surrounding Synechococcus cells provide a considerable competitive advantage to chemotactic bacteria. These findings reveal that transient interactions mediated by chemotaxis can underpin metabolic relationships among the ocean’s most abundant microorganisms.

  • Changes in interactions over ecological time scales influence single-cell growth dynamics in a metabolically coupled marine microbial community

    Daniels M, van Viliet S, and Ackermann M

    , 2023, ISME Journal

    Microbial communities thrive in almost all habitats on earth. Within these communities, cells interact through the release and uptake of metabolites. These interactions can have synergistic or antagonistic effects on individual community members. The collective metabolic activity of microbial communities leads to changes in their local environment. As the environment changes over time, the nature of the interactions between cells can change. We currently lack understanding of how such dynamic feedbacks affect the growth dynamics of individual microbes and of the community as a whole. Here we study how interactions mediated by the exchange of metabolites through the environment change over time within a simple marine microbial community. We used a microfluidic-based approach that allows us to disentangle the effect cells have on their environment from how they respond to their environment. We found that the interactions between two species-a degrader of chitin and a cross-feeder that consumes metabolic by-products-changes dynamically over time as cells modify their environment. Cells initially interact positively and then start to compete at later stages of growth. Our results demonstrate that interactions between microorganisms are not static and depend on the state of the environment, emphasizing the importance of disentangling how modifications of the environment affects species interactions. This experimental approach can shed new light on how interspecies interactions scale up to community level processes in natural environments.

  • Microbial population dynamics decouple growth response from environmental nutrient concentration

    Fink JW, Held NA, and Manhart M

    , 2023, PNAS, 120 (2): e2207295120

    How the growth rate of a microbial population responds to the environmental availability of chemical nutrients and other resources is a fundamental question in microbiology. Models of this response, such as the widely used Monod model, are generally characterized by a maximum growth rate and a half-saturation concentration of the resource. What values should we expect for these half-saturation concentrations, and how should they depend on the environmental concentration of the resource? We survey growth response data across a wide range of organisms and resources. We find that the half-saturation concentrations vary across orders of magnitude, even for the same organism and resource. To explain this variation, we develop an evolutionary model to show that demographic fluctuations (genetic drift) can constrain the adaptation of half-saturation concentrations. We find that this effect fundamentally differs depending on the type of population dynamics: Populations undergoing periodic bottlenecks of fixed size will adapt their half-saturation concentrations in proportion to the environmental resource concentrations, but populations undergoing periodic dilutions of fixed size will evolve half-saturation concentrations that are largely decoupled from the environmental concentrations. Our model not only provides testable predictions for laboratory evolution experiments, but it also reveals how an evolved half-saturation concentration may not reflect the organism’s environment. In particular, this explains how organisms in resource-rich environments can still evolve fast growth at low resource concentrations. Altogether, our results demonstrate the critical role of population dynamics in shaping fundamental ecological traits.