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1.  RNA Preservation Agents and Nucleic Acid Extraction Method Bias Perceived Bacterial Community Composition 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(3):e0121659.
Bias is a pervasive problem when characterizing microbial communities. An important source is the difference in lysis efficiencies of different populations, which vary depending on the extraction protocol used. To avoid such biases impacting comparisons between gene and transcript abundances in the environment, the use of one protocol that simultaneously extracts both types of nucleic acids from microbial community samples has gained popularity. However, knowledge regarding tradeoffs to combined nucleic acid extraction protocols is limited, particularly regarding yield and biases in the observed community composition. Here, we evaluated a commercially available protocol for simultaneous extraction of DNA and RNA, which we adapted for freshwater microbial community samples that were collected on filters. DNA and RNA yields were comparable to other commonly used, but independent DNA and RNA extraction protocols. RNA protection agents benefited RNA quality, but decreased DNA yields significantly. Choice of extraction protocol influenced the perceived bacterial community composition, with strong method-dependent biases observed for specific phyla such as the Verrucomicrobia. The combined DNA/RNA extraction protocol detected significantly higher levels of Verrucomicrobia than the other protocols, and those higher numbers were confirmed by microscopic analysis. Use of RNA protection agents as well as independent sequencing runs caused a significant shift in community composition as well, albeit smaller than the shift caused by using different extraction protocols. Despite methodological biases, sample origin was the strongest determinant of community composition. However, when the abundance of specific phylogenetic groups is of interest, researchers need to be aware of the biases their methods introduce. This is particularly relevant if different methods are used for DNA and RNA extraction, in addition to using RNA protection agents only for RNA samples.
PMCID: PMC4370824  PMID: 25798612
2.  Comparative genomics in acid mine drainage biofilm communities reveals metabolic and structural differentiation of co-occurring archaea 
BMC Genomics  2013;14:485.
Metal sulfide mineral dissolution during bioleaching and acid mine drainage (AMD) formation creates an environment that is inhospitable to most life. Despite dominance by a small number of bacteria, AMD microbial biofilm communities contain a notable variety of coexisting and closely related Euryarchaea, most of which have defied cultivation efforts. For this reason, we used metagenomics to analyze variation in gene content that may contribute to niche differentiation among co-occurring AMD archaea. Our analyses targeted members of the Thermoplasmatales and related archaea. These results greatly expand genomic information available for this archaeal order.
We reconstructed near-complete genomes for uncultivated, relatively low abundance organisms A-, E-, and Gplasma, members of Thermoplasmatales order, and for a novel organism, Iplasma. Genomic analyses of these organisms, as well as Ferroplasma type I and II, reveal that all are facultative aerobic heterotrophs with the ability to use many of the same carbon substrates, including methanol. Most of the genomes share genes for toxic metal resistance and surface-layer production. Only Aplasma and Eplasma have a full suite of flagellar genes whereas all but the Ferroplasma spp. have genes for pili production. Cryogenic-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) and tomography (cryo-ET) strengthen these metagenomics-based ultrastructural predictions. Notably, only Aplasma, Gplasma and the Ferroplasma spp. have predicted iron oxidation genes and Eplasma and Iplasma lack most genes for cobalamin, valine, (iso)leucine and histidine synthesis.
The Thermoplasmatales AMD archaea share a large number of metabolic capabilities. All of the uncultivated organisms studied here (A-, E-, G-, and Iplasma) are metabolically very similar to characterized Ferroplasma spp., differentiating themselves mainly in their genetic capabilities for biosynthesis, motility, and possibly iron oxidation. These results indicate that subtle, but important genomic differences, coupled with unknown differences in gene expression, distinguish these organisms enough to allow for co-existence. Overall this study reveals shared features of organisms from the Thermoplasmatales lineage and provides new insights into the functioning of AMD communities.
PMCID: PMC3750248  PMID: 23865623
Metagenomics; Acid mine drainage; Thermoplasmatales; Ferroplasma; Iron oxidation; Comparative genomics
3.  Quantitative proteomic analyses of the response of acidophilic microbial communities to different pH conditions 
The ISME Journal  2011;5(7):1152-1161.
Extensive genomic characterization of multi-species acid mine drainage microbial consortia combined with laboratory cultivation has enabled the application of quantitative proteomic analyses at the community level. In this study, quantitative proteomic comparisons were used to functionally characterize laboratory-cultivated acidophilic communities sustained in pH 1.45 or 0.85 conditions. The distributions of all proteins identified for individual organisms indicated biases for either high or low pH, and suggests pH-specific niche partitioning for low abundance bacteria and archaea. Although the proteome of the dominant bacterium, Leptospirillum group II, was largely unaffected by pH treatments, analysis of functional categories indicated proteins involved in amino acid and nucleotide metabolism, as well as cell membrane/envelope biogenesis were overrepresented at high pH. Comparison of specific protein abundances indicates higher pH conditions favor Leptospirillum group III, whereas low pH conditions promote the growth of certain archaea. Thus, quantitative proteomic comparisons revealed distinct differences in community composition and metabolic function of individual organisms during different pH treatments. Proteomic analysis revealed other aspects of community function. Different numbers of phage proteins were identified across biological replicates, indicating stochastic spatial heterogeneity of phage outbreaks. Additionally, proteomic data were used to identify a previously unknown genotypic variant of Leptospirillum group II, an indication of selection for a specific Leptospirillum group II population in laboratory communities. Our results confirm the importance of pH and related geochemical factors in fine-tuning acidophilic microbial community structure and function at the species and strain level, and demonstrate the broad utility of proteomics in laboratory community studies.
PMCID: PMC3146278  PMID: 21228889
acid mine drainage; communities; genotyping; perturbation; proteomics
4.  Persisting Viral Sequences Shape Microbial CRISPR-based Immunity 
PLoS Computational Biology  2012;8(4):e1002475.
Well-studied innate immune systems exist throughout bacteria and archaea, but a more recently discovered genomic locus may offer prokaryotes surprising immunological adaptability. Mediated by a cassette-like genomic locus termed Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR), the microbial adaptive immune system differs from its eukaryotic immune analogues by incorporating new immunities unidirectionally. CRISPR thus stores genomically recoverable timelines of virus-host coevolution in natural organisms refractory to laboratory cultivation. Here we combined a population genetic mathematical model of CRISPR-virus coevolution with six years of metagenomic sequencing to link the recoverable genomic dynamics of CRISPR loci to the unknown population dynamics of virus and host in natural communities. Metagenomic reconstructions in an acid-mine drainage system document CRISPR loci conserving ancestral immune elements to the base-pair across thousands of microbial generations. This ‘trailer-end conservation’ occurs despite rapid viral mutation and despite rapid prokaryotic genomic deletion. The trailer-ends of many reconstructed CRISPR loci are also largely identical across a population. ‘Trailer-end clonality’ occurs despite predictions of host immunological diversity due to negative frequency dependent selection (kill the winner dynamics). Statistical clustering and model simulations explain this lack of diversity by capturing rapid selective sweeps by highly immune CRISPR lineages. Potentially explaining ‘trailer-end conservation,’ we record the first example of a viral bloom overwhelming a CRISPR system. The polyclonal viruses bloom even though they share sequences previously targeted by host CRISPR loci. Simulations show how increasing random genomic deletions in CRISPR loci purges immunological controls on long-lived viral sequences, allowing polyclonal viruses to bloom and depressing host fitness. Our results thus link documented patterns of genomic conservation in CRISPR loci to an evolutionary advantage against persistent viruses. By maintaining old immunities, selection may be tuning CRISPR-mediated immunity against viruses reemerging from lysogeny or migration.
Author Summary
Most microbes appear unculturable in the laboratory, limiting our knowledge of how virus and prokaryotic host evolve in natural systems. However, a genomic locus found in many prokaryotes, CRISPR, may offer cultivation-independent probes of virus-microbe coevolution. Utilizing nearby genes, CRISPR can serially incorporate short viral and plasmid sequences. These sequences bind and cleave cognate regions in subsequent viral and plasmid insertions, conferring adaptive anti-viral and anti-plasmid immunity. By incorporating sequences undirectionally, CRISPR also provides timelines of virus-prokaryote coevolution. Yet, CRISPR only incorporates 30–80 base-pair viral sequences, leaving incomplete coevolutionary recordings. To reconstruct the missing coevolutionary dynamics shaping natural CRISPRs, we combined metagenomic reconstructions with population-scale mathematical modeling. Capturing rare and rapid sweeps of CRISPR diversity by highly immune lines, mathematical modeling explains why naturally reconstructed CRISPR loci are often largely identical across a population. Both model and experiment further document surprising proliferations of old viral sequences against which hosts had preexisting CRISPR immunity. Due to these deadly blooms of ancestral viral elements, CRISPR's conservation of old immune sequences appears to confer a selective advantage. This may explain the striking immunological memory documented in CRISPR loci, which occurs despite rapid viral mutation and despite rapid deletions in prokaryotic genomes.
PMCID: PMC3330103  PMID: 22532794
5.  Metabolome-Proteome Differentiation Coupled to Microbial Divergence 
mBio  2010;1(5):e00246-10.
Tandem high-throughput proteomics and metabolomics were employed to functionally characterize natural microbial biofilm communities. Distinct molecular signatures exist for each analyzed sample. Deconvolution of the high-resolution molecular data demonstrates that identified proteins and detected metabolites exhibit organism-specific correlation patterns. These patterns are reflective of the functional differentiation of two bacterial species that share the same genus and that co-occur in the sampled microbial communities. Our analyses indicate that the two species have similar niche breadths and are not in strong competition with one another.
Natural microbial assemblages represent dynamic consortia that exhibit extensive complexity at all levels. In the present study, we demonstrate that correlations between protein and metabolite abundances allow the deconvolution of complex molecular data sets into shared and organism-specific contingents. We demonstrate that evolutionary divergence is associated with the restructuring of cellular metabolic networks, which in turn allows bacterial species to occupy distinct ecological niches. The apparent lack of interspecific competition may explain the extensive population-level genetic heterogeneity observed extensively within microbial communities. The reported findings have broad implications for the in-depth investigation of the ecology and evolution of distinct microbial community members and for leveraging the solution of cryptic metabolic processes in the future.
PMCID: PMC2962434  PMID: 20978538
6.  Ecological distribution and population physiology defined by proteomics in a natural microbial community 
Community proteomics applied to natural microbial biofilms resolves how the physiology of different populations from a model ecosystem change with measured environmental factors in situ.The initial colonists, Leptospirillum Group II bacteria, persist throughout ecological succession and dominate all communities, a pattern that resembles community assembly patterns in some macroecological systems.Interspecies interactions, and not abiotic environmental factors, demonstrate the strongest correlation to physiological changes of Leptospirillum Group II.Environmental niches of subdominant populations seem to be determined by combinations of specific sets of abiotic environmental factors.
A fundamental question in microbial ecology addresses how organisms regulate their metabolic activities within natural communities as environmental constraints and population structures change. Recent advances in molecular biology have allowed for investigation into the physiology of organisms within natural settings, opening the door to understanding microbial metabolic responses in situ. Here, we have examined how a diverse set of organisms from microbial biofilms alters their protein complements as environmental parameters change and as ecological succession occurs. We find that, when growing in newly formed biofilms, the dominant organism within these communities exhibits a metabolism focused on rapid growth, protein synthesis, and stress defense. As community succession proceeds and secondary colonizers populate maturing biofilms, this organism's metabolism switches to one focused on synthesizing many essential cellular components, including amino acids, DNA, and carbohydrates. We also find that the metabolism of this organism is not strongly influenced by external environmental factors over the range of conditions studied. In addition, the protein complements of secondary colonizers seem to be highly responsive to changes in specific environmental parameters (e.g. pH, conductivity, temperature), which may limit their distribution across this environment. These findings provide insight into which of these environmental factors may drive community assembly in a natural microbial assemblage, and, in turn, may influence the metabolism of individual populations.
An important challenge in microbial ecology is developing methods that simultaneously examine the physiology of organisms at the molecular level and their ecosystem level interactions in complex natural systems. We integrated extensive proteomic, geochemical, and biological information from 28 microbial communities collected from an acid mine drainage environment and representing a range of biofilm development stages and geochemical conditions to evaluate how the physiologies of the dominant and less abundant organisms change along environmental gradients. The initial colonist dominates across all environments, but its proteome changes between two stable states as communities diversify, implying that interspecies interactions affect this organism's metabolism. Its overall physiology is robust to abiotic environmental factors, but strong correlations exist between these factors and certain subsets of proteins, possibly accounting for its wide environmental distribution. Lower abundance populations are patchier in their distribution, and proteomic data indicate that their environmental niches may be constrained by specific sets of abiotic environmental factors. This research establishes an effective strategy to investigate ecological relationships between microbial physiology and the environment for whole communities in situ.
PMCID: PMC2913395  PMID: 20531404
community structure; metaproteomics; microbial ecology; model community; succession
7.  Community Genomic and Proteomic Analyses of Chemoautotrophic Iron-Oxidizing “Leptospirillum rubarum” (Group II) and “Leptospirillum ferrodiazotrophum” (Group III) Bacteria in Acid Mine Drainage Biofilms ▿ †  
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2009;75(13):4599-4615.
We analyzed near-complete population (composite) genomic sequences for coexisting acidophilic iron-oxidizing Leptospirillum group II and III bacteria (phylum Nitrospirae) and an extrachromosomal plasmid from a Richmond Mine, Iron Mountain, CA, acid mine drainage biofilm. Community proteomic analysis of the genomically characterized sample and two other biofilms identified 64.6% and 44.9% of the predicted proteins of Leptospirillum groups II and III, respectively, and 20% of the predicted plasmid proteins. The bacteria share 92% 16S rRNA gene sequence identity and >60% of their genes, including integrated plasmid-like regions. The extrachromosomal plasmid carries conjugation genes with detectable sequence similarity to genes in the integrated conjugative plasmid, but only those on the extrachromosomal element were identified by proteomics. Both bacterial groups have genes for community-essential functions, including carbon fixation and biosynthesis of vitamins, fatty acids, and biopolymers (including cellulose); proteomic analyses reveal these activities. Both Leptospirillum types have multiple pathways for osmotic protection. Although both are motile, signal transduction and methyl-accepting chemotaxis proteins are more abundant in Leptospirillum group III, consistent with its distribution in gradients within biofilms. Interestingly, Leptospirillum group II uses a methyl-dependent and Leptospirillum group III a methyl-independent response pathway. Although only Leptospirillum group III can fix nitrogen, these proteins were not identified by proteomics. The abundances of core proteins are similar in all communities, but the abundance levels of unique and shared proteins of unknown function vary. Some proteins unique to one organism were highly expressed and may be key to the functional and ecological differentiation of Leptospirillum groups II and III.
PMCID: PMC2704813  PMID: 19429552
8.  The dynamic genetic repertoire of microbial communities 
Fems Microbiology Reviews  2008;33(1):109-132.
Community genomic data have revealed multiple levels of variation between and within microbial consortia. This variation includes large-scale differences in gene content between ecosystems as well as within-population sequence heterogeneity. In the present review, we focus specifically on how fine-scale variation within microbial and viral populations is apparent from community genomic data. A major unresolved question is how much of the observed variation is due to neutral vs. adaptive processes. Limited experimental data hint that some of this fine-scale variation may be in part functionally relevant, whereas sequence-based and modeling analyses suggest that much of it may be neutral. While methods for interpreting population genomic data are still in their infancy, we discuss current interpretations of existing datasets in the light of evolutionary processes and models. Finally, we highlight the importance of virus–host dynamics in generating and shaping within-population diversity.
PMCID: PMC2704941  PMID: 19054116
community genomics; CRISPR; genetic heterogeneity; metagenomics; population genomics; virus–host dynamics
9.  Population Genomic Analysis of Strain Variation in Leptospirillum Group II Bacteria Involved in Acid Mine Drainage Formation  
PLoS Biology  2008;6(7):e177.
Deeply sampled community genomic (metagenomic) datasets enable comprehensive analysis of heterogeneity in natural microbial populations. In this study, we used sequence data obtained from the dominant member of a low-diversity natural chemoautotrophic microbial community to determine how coexisting closely related individuals differ from each other in terms of gene sequence and gene content, and to uncover evidence of evolutionary processes that occur over short timescales. DNA sequence obtained from an acid mine drainage biofilm was reconstructed, taking into account the effects of strain variation, to generate a nearly complete genome tiling path for a Leptospirillum group II species closely related to L. ferriphilum (sampling depth ∼20×). The population is dominated by one sequence type, yet we detected evidence for relatively abundant variants (>99.5% sequence identity to the dominant type) at multiple loci, and a few rare variants. Blocks of other Leptospirillum group II types (∼94% sequence identity) have recombined into one or more variants. Variant blocks of both types are more numerous near the origin of replication. Heterogeneity in genetic potential within the population arises from localized variation in gene content, typically focused in integrated plasmid/phage-like regions. Some laterally transferred gene blocks encode physiologically important genes, including quorum-sensing genes of the LuxIR system. Overall, results suggest inter- and intrapopulation genetic exchange involving distinct parental genome types and implicate gain and loss of phage and plasmid genes in recent evolution of this Leptospirillum group II population. Population genetic analyses of single nucleotide polymorphisms indicate variation between closely related strains is not maintained by positive selection, suggesting that these regions do not represent adaptive differences between strains. Thus, the most likely explanation for the observed patterns of polymorphism is divergence of ancestral strains due to geographic isolation, followed by mixing and subsequent recombination.
Author Summary
Communities of microbes in nature consist of a large number of distinct individuals. The variation in DNA sequence between these individuals contains a record of the evolutionary processes that have shaped each community. In most environments, however, the high number of distinct species makes obtaining information about the nature of this variation difficult or impossible. We obtained large amounts of sequence data for a natural community in an acid mine drainage system consisting of only a few species. This enabled us to reconstruct the genome of the dominant bacterium (Leptospirillum group II) and obtain detailed information about sequence variation between individuals, including differences in both gene content and gene sequence. Our analysis shows extensive recombination between closely related populations, as well as fewer instances of recombination between more distantly related individuals. Additionally, viruses and plasmids account for high variability in gene content between individuals. We conclude that sequence-level variation in this population is maintained through neutral processes (migration, recombination, and genetic drift) rather than natural selection. This suggests that closely related strains of the Leptospirillum group II population may not be ecologically distinct.
Deep sequencing of a low-complexity microbial community revealed extensive recombination as well as polymorphic and gene content variation between individuals of the dominant organism. We show that strains defined by linked polymorphisms are not maintained by positive selection; instead, they are predominantly maintained by the forces of migration and drift.
PMCID: PMC2475542  PMID: 18651792

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