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  • 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 F, Zbinden M, and Sotcker 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.