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1.  Phylogenetic conservatism of functional traits in microorganisms 
The ISME Journal  2012;7(4):830-838.
A central question in biology is how biodiversity influences ecosystem functioning. Underlying this is the relationship between organismal phylogeny and the presence of specific functional traits. The relationship is complicated by gene loss and convergent evolution, resulting in the polyphyletic distribution of many traits. In microorganisms, lateral gene transfer can further distort the linkage between phylogeny and the presence of specific functional traits. To identify the phylogenetic conservation of specific traits in microorganisms, we developed a new phylogenetic metric—consenTRAIT—to estimate the clade depth where organisms share a trait. We then analyzed the distribution of 89 functional traits across a broad range of Bacteria and Archaea using genotypic and phenotypic data. A total of 93% of the traits were significantly non-randomly distributed, which suggested that vertical inheritance was generally important for the phylogenetic dispersion of functional traits in microorganisms. Further, traits in microbes were associated with a continuum of trait depths (τD), ranging from a few deep to many shallow clades (average τD: 0.101–0.0011 rRNA sequence dissimilarity). Next, we demonstrated that the dispersion and the depth of clades that contain a trait is correlated with the trait's complexity. Specifically, complex traits encoded by many genes like photosynthesis and methanogenesis were found in a few deep clusters, whereas the ability to use simple carbon substrates was highly phylogenetically dispersed. On the basis of these results, we propose a framework for predicting the phylogenetic conservatism of functional traits depending on the complexity of the trait. This framework enables predicting how variation in microbial composition may affect microbially-mediated ecosystem processes as well as linking phylogenetic and trait-based patterns of biogeography.
doi:10.1038/ismej.2012.160
PMCID: PMC3603392  PMID: 23235290
Phylogenomics; SEED; traits; lateral gene transfer; Biolog; consenTRAIT
2.  Phylogenetic Distribution of Potential Cellulases in Bacteria 
Many microorganisms contain cellulases that are important for plant cell wall degradation and overall soil ecosystem functioning. At present, we have extensive biochemical knowledge of cellulases but little is known about the phylogenetic distribution of these enzymes. To address this, we analyzed the distribution of 21,985 genes encoding proteins related to cellulose utilization in 5,123 sequenced bacterial genomes. First, we identified the distribution of glycoside hydrolases involved in cellulose utilization and synthesis at different taxonomic levels, from the phylum to the strain. Cellulose degradation/utilization capabilities appeared in nearly all major groups and resulted in strains displaying various enzyme gene combinations. Potential cellulose degraders, having both cellulases and β-glucosidases, constituted 24% of all genomes whereas potential opportunistic strains, having β-glucosidases only, accounted for 56%. Finally, 20% of the bacteria have no relevant enzymes and do not rely on cellulose utilization. The latter group was primarily connected to specific bacterial lifestyles like autotrophy and parasitism. Cellulose degraders, as well as opportunists, have multiple enzymes with similar functions. However, the potential degraders systematically harbor about twice more β-glucosidases than their potential opportunistic relatives. Although scattered, the distribution of functional types, in bacterial lineages, is not random but mostly follows a Brownian motion evolution model. Degraders form clusters of relatives at the species level, whereas opportunists are clustered at the genus level. This information can form a mechanistic basis for the linking of changes in microbial community composition to soil ecosystem processes.
doi:10.1128/AEM.03305-12
PMCID: PMC3591946  PMID: 23263967
3.  Coupled high-throughput functional screening and next generation sequencing for identification of plant polymer decomposing enzymes in metagenomic libraries 
Recent advances in sequencing technologies generate new predictions and hypotheses about the functional roles of environmental microorganisms. Yet, until we can test these predictions at a scale that matches our ability to generate them, most of them will remain as hypotheses. Function-based mining of metagenomic libraries can provide direct linkages between genes, metabolic traits and microbial taxa and thus bridge this gap between sequence data generation and functional predictions. Here we developed high-throughput screening assays for function-based characterization of activities involved in plant polymer decomposition from environmental metagenomic libraries. The multiplexed assays use fluorogenic and chromogenic substrates, combine automated liquid handling and use a genetically modified expression host to enable simultaneous screening of 12,160 clones for 14 activities in a total of 170,240 reactions. Using this platform we identified 374 (0.26%) cellulose, hemicellulose, chitin, starch, phosphate and protein hydrolyzing clones from fosmid libraries prepared from decomposing leaf litter. Sequencing on the Illumina MiSeq platform, followed by assembly and gene prediction of a subset of 95 fosmid clones, identified a broad range of bacterial phyla, including Actinobacteria, Bacteroidetes, multiple Proteobacteria sub-phyla in addition to some Fungi. Carbohydrate-active enzyme genes from 20 different glycoside hydrolase (GH) families were detected. Using tetranucleotide frequency (TNF) binning of fosmid sequences, multiple enzyme activities from distinct fosmids were linked, demonstrating how biochemically-confirmed functional traits in environmental metagenomes may be attributed to groups of specific organisms. Overall, our results demonstrate how functional screening of metagenomic libraries can be used to connect microbial functionality to community composition and, as a result, complement large-scale metagenomic sequencing efforts.
doi:10.3389/fmicb.2013.00282
PMCID: PMC3779933  PMID: 24069019
functional metagenomics; carbon cycling; trait-based modeling; gene annotation; microbial communities; decomposers; metagenomics; enzyme activity
4.  Global distribution and diversity of marine Verrucomicrobia 
The ISME Journal  2012;6(8):1499-1505.
Verrucomicrobia is a bacterial phylum that is commonly detected in soil, but little is known about the distribution and diversity of this phylum in the marine environment. To address this, we analyzed the marine microbial community composition in 506 samples from the International Census of Marine Microbes as well as 11 coastal samples taken from the California Current. These samples from both the water column and sediments covered a wide range of environmental conditions. Verrucomicrobia were present in 98% of the analyzed samples, and thus appeared nearly ubiquitous in the ocean. Based on the occurrence of amplified 16S ribosomal RNA sequences, Verrucomicrobia constituted on average 2% of the water column and 1.4% of the sediment bacterial communities. The diversity of Verrucomicrobia displayed a biogeography at multiple taxonomic levels and thus, specific lineages appeared to have clear habitat preference. We found that subdivision 1 and 4 generally dominated marine bacterial communities, whereas subdivision 2 was more frequent in low salinity waters. Within the subdivisions, Verrucomicrobia community composition were significantly different in the water column compared with sediment as well as within the water column along gradients of salinity, temperature, nitrate, depth and overall water column depth. Although we still know little about the ecophysiology of Verrucomicrobia lineages, the ubiquity of this phylum suggests that it may be important for the biogeochemical cycle of carbon in the ocean.
doi:10.1038/ismej.2012.3
PMCID: PMC3400412  PMID: 22318305
Verrucomicrobia; bacterial communities; ICoMM
5.  Fine-Scale Temporal Variation in Marine Extracellular Enzymes of Coastal Southern California 
Extracellular enzymes are functional components of marine microbial communities that contribute to nutrient remineralization by catalyzing the degradation of organic substrates. Particularly in coastal environments, the magnitude of variation in enzyme activities across timescales is not well characterized. Therefore, we established the MICRO time series at Newport Pier, California, to assess enzyme activities and other ocean parameters at high temporal resolution in a coastal environment. We hypothesized that enzyme activities would vary most on daily to weekly timescales, but would also show repeatable seasonal patterns. In addition, we expected that activities would correlate with nutrient and chlorophyll concentrations, and that most enzyme activity would be bound to particles. We found that 34–48% of the variation in enzyme activity occurred at timescales <30 days. About 28–56% of the variance in seawater nutrient concentrations, chlorophyll concentrations, and ocean currents also occurred on this timescale. Only the enzyme β-glucosidase showed evidence of a repeatable seasonal pattern, with elevated activities in the spring months that correlated with spring phytoplankton blooms in the Southern California Bight. Most enzyme activities were weakly but positively correlated with nutrient concentrations (r = 0.24–0.31) and upwelling (r = 0.29–0.35). For the enzymes β-glucosidase and leucine aminopeptidase, most activity was bound to particles. However, 81.2% of alkaline phosphatase and 42.8% of N-acetyl-glucosaminidase activity was freely dissolved. These results suggest that enzyme-producing bacterial communities and nutrient dynamics in coastal environments vary substantially on short timescales (<30 days). Furthermore, the enzymes that degrade carbohydrates and proteins likely depend on microbial communities attached to particles, whereas phosphorus release may occur throughout the water column.
doi:10.3389/fmicb.2012.00301
PMCID: PMC3421452  PMID: 22912628
coastal ocean; extracellular enzyme; marine microbes; particles; phytoplankton; southern California; temporal variation; time series
6.  Functional Metagenomics Reveals Previously Unrecognized Diversity of Antibiotic Resistance Genes in Gulls 
Wildlife may facilitate the spread of antibiotic resistance (AR) between human-dominated habitats and the surrounding environment. Here, we use functional metagenomics to survey the diversity and genomic context of AR genes in gulls. Using this approach, we found a variety of AR genes not previously detected in gulls and wildlife, including class A and C β-lactamases as well as six tetracycline resistance gene types. An analysis of the flanking sequences indicates that most of these genes are present in Enterobacteriaceae and various Gram-positive bacteria. In addition to finding known gene types, we detected 31 previously undescribed AR genes. These undescribed genes include one most similar to an uncharacterized gene in Verrucomicrobium and another to a putative DNA repair protein in Lactobacillus. Overall, the study more than doubled the number of clinically relevant AR gene types known to be carried by gulls or by wildlife in general. Together with the propensity of gulls to visit human-dominated habitats, this high diversity of AR gene types suggests that gulls could facilitate the spread of AR.
doi:10.3389/fmicb.2011.00238
PMCID: PMC3275322  PMID: 22347872
herring gulls; antibiotic resistance; Verrucomicrobia; Larus argentatus; metagenomics
7.  Patterns and Implications of Gene Gain and Loss in the Evolution of Prochlorococcus 
PLoS Genetics  2007;3(12):e231.
Prochlorococcus is a marine cyanobacterium that numerically dominates the mid-latitude oceans and is the smallest known oxygenic phototroph. Numerous isolates from diverse areas of the world's oceans have been studied and shown to be physiologically and genetically distinct. All isolates described thus far can be assigned to either a tightly clustered high-light (HL)-adapted clade, or a more divergent low-light (LL)-adapted group. The 16S rRNA sequences of the entire Prochlorococcus group differ by at most 3%, and the four initially published genomes revealed patterns of genetic differentiation that help explain physiological differences among the isolates. Here we describe the genomes of eight newly sequenced isolates and combine them with the first four genomes for a comprehensive analysis of the core (shared by all isolates) and flexible genes of the Prochlorococcus group, and the patterns of loss and gain of the flexible genes over the course of evolution. There are 1,273 genes that represent the core shared by all 12 genomes. They are apparently sufficient, according to metabolic reconstruction, to encode a functional cell. We describe a phylogeny for all 12 isolates by subjecting their complete proteomes to three different phylogenetic analyses. For each non-core gene, we used a maximum parsimony method to estimate which ancestor likely first acquired or lost each gene. Many of the genetic differences among isolates, especially for genes involved in outer membrane synthesis and nutrient transport, are found within the same clade. Nevertheless, we identified some genes defining HL and LL ecotypes, and clades within these broad ecotypes, helping to demonstrate the basis of HL and LL adaptations in Prochlorococcus. Furthermore, our estimates of gene gain events allow us to identify highly variable genomic islands that are not apparent through simple pairwise comparisons. These results emphasize the functional roles, especially those connected to outer membrane synthesis and transport that dominate the flexible genome and set it apart from the core. Besides identifying islands and demonstrating their role throughout the history of Prochlorococcus, reconstruction of past gene gains and losses shows that much of the variability exists at the “leaves of the tree,” between the most closely related strains. Finally, the identification of core and flexible genes from this 12-genome comparison is largely consistent with the relative frequency of Prochlorococcus genes found in global ocean metagenomic databases, further closing the gap between our understanding of these organisms in the lab and the wild.
Author Summary
Prochlorococcus—the most abundant photosynthetic microbe living in the vast, nutrient-poor areas of the ocean—is a major contributor to the global carbon cycle. Prochlorococcus is composed of closely related, physiologically distinct lineages whose differences enable the group as a whole to proliferate over a broad range of environmental conditions. We compare the genomes of 12 strains of Prochlorococcus representing its major lineages in order to identify genetic differences affecting the ecology of different lineages and their evolutionary origin. First, we identify the core genome: the 1,273 genes shared among all strains. This core set of genes encodes the essentials of a functional cell, enabling it to make living matter out of sunlight and carbon dioxide. We then create a genomic tree that maps the gain and loss of non-core genes in individual strains, showing that a striking number of genes are gained or lost even among the most closely related strains. We find that lost and gained genes commonly cluster in highly variable regions called genomic islands. The level of diversity among the non-core genes, and the number of new genes added with each new genome sequenced, suggest far more diversity to be discovered.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.0030231
PMCID: PMC2151091  PMID: 18159947
8.  Patterns and Implications of Gene Gain and Loss in the Evolution of Prochlorococcus 
PLoS Genetics  2007;3(12):e231.
Prochlorococcus is a marine cyanobacterium that numerically dominates the mid-latitude oceans and is the smallest known oxygenic phototroph. Numerous isolates from diverse areas of the world's oceans have been studied and shown to be physiologically and genetically distinct. All isolates described thus far can be assigned to either a tightly clustered high-light (HL)-adapted clade, or a more divergent low-light (LL)-adapted group. The 16S rRNA sequences of the entire Prochlorococcus group differ by at most 3%, and the four initially published genomes revealed patterns of genetic differentiation that help explain physiological differences among the isolates. Here we describe the genomes of eight newly sequenced isolates and combine them with the first four genomes for a comprehensive analysis of the core (shared by all isolates) and flexible genes of the Prochlorococcus group, and the patterns of loss and gain of the flexible genes over the course of evolution. There are 1,273 genes that represent the core shared by all 12 genomes. They are apparently sufficient, according to metabolic reconstruction, to encode a functional cell. We describe a phylogeny for all 12 isolates by subjecting their complete proteomes to three different phylogenetic analyses. For each non-core gene, we used a maximum parsimony method to estimate which ancestor likely first acquired or lost each gene. Many of the genetic differences among isolates, especially for genes involved in outer membrane synthesis and nutrient transport, are found within the same clade. Nevertheless, we identified some genes defining HL and LL ecotypes, and clades within these broad ecotypes, helping to demonstrate the basis of HL and LL adaptations in Prochlorococcus. Furthermore, our estimates of gene gain events allow us to identify highly variable genomic islands that are not apparent through simple pairwise comparisons. These results emphasize the functional roles, especially those connected to outer membrane synthesis and transport that dominate the flexible genome and set it apart from the core. Besides identifying islands and demonstrating their role throughout the history of Prochlorococcus, reconstruction of past gene gains and losses shows that much of the variability exists at the “leaves of the tree,” between the most closely related strains. Finally, the identification of core and flexible genes from this 12-genome comparison is largely consistent with the relative frequency of Prochlorococcus genes found in global ocean metagenomic databases, further closing the gap between our understanding of these organisms in the lab and the wild.
Author Summary
Prochlorococcus—the most abundant photosynthetic microbe living in the vast, nutrient-poor areas of the ocean—is a major contributor to the global carbon cycle. Prochlorococcus is composed of closely related, physiologically distinct lineages whose differences enable the group as a whole to proliferate over a broad range of environmental conditions. We compare the genomes of 12 strains of Prochlorococcus representing its major lineages in order to identify genetic differences affecting the ecology of different lineages and their evolutionary origin. First, we identify the core genome: the 1,273 genes shared among all strains. This core set of genes encodes the essentials of a functional cell, enabling it to make living matter out of sunlight and carbon dioxide. We then create a genomic tree that maps the gain and loss of non-core genes in individual strains, showing that a striking number of genes are gained or lost even among the most closely related strains. We find that lost and gained genes commonly cluster in highly variable regions called genomic islands. The level of diversity among the non-core genes, and the number of new genes added with each new genome sequenced, suggest far more diversity to be discovered.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.0030231
PMCID: PMC2151091  PMID: 18159947
9.  Prochlorococcus Ecotype Abundances in the North Atlantic Ocean As Revealed by an Improved Quantitative PCR Method†  
The cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus numerically dominates the photosynthetic community in the tropical and subtropical regions of the world's oceans. Six evolutionary lineages of Prochlorococcus have been described, and their distinctive physiologies and genomes indicate that these lineages are “ecotypes” and should have different oceanic distributions. Two methods recently developed to quantify these ecotypes in the field, probe hybridization and quantitative PCR (QPCR), have shown that this is indeed the case. To facilitate a global investigation of these ecotypes, we modified our QPCR protocol to significantly increase its speed, sensitivity, and accessibility and validated the method in the western and eastern North Atlantic Ocean. We showed that all six ecotypes had distinct distributions that varied with depth and location, and, with the exception of the deeper waters at the western North Atlantic site, the total Prochlorococcus counts determined by QPCR matched the total counts measured by flow cytometry. Clone library analyses of the deeper western North Atlantic waters revealed ecotypes that are not represented in the culture collections with which the QPCR primers were designed, explaining this discrepancy. Finally, similar patterns of relative ecotype abundance were obtained in QPCR and probe hybridization analyses of the same field samples, which could allow comparisons between studies.
doi:10.1128/AEM.72.1.723-732.2006
PMCID: PMC1352191  PMID: 16391112
10.  Identification of Bacteria in Biofilm and Bulk Water Samples from a Nonchlorinated Model Drinking Water Distribution System: Detection of a Large Nitrite-Oxidizing Population Associated with Nitrospira spp. 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2005;71(12):8611-8617.
In a model drinking water distribution system characterized by a low assimilable organic carbon content (<10 μg/liter) and no disinfection, the bacterial community was identified by a phylogenetic analysis of rRNA genes amplified from directly extracted DNA and colonies formed on R2A plates. Biofilms of defined periods of age (14 days to 3 years) and bulk water samples were investigated. Culturable bacteria were associated with Proteobacteria and Bacteriodetes, whereas independently of cultivation, bacteria from 12 phyla were detected in this system. These included Acidobacteria, Nitrospirae, Planctomycetes, and Verrucomicrobia, some of which have never been identified in drinking water previously. A cluster analysis of the population profiles from the individual samples divided biofilms and bulk water samples into separate clusters (P = 0.027). Bacteria associated with Nitrospira moscoviensis were found in all samples and encompassed 39% of the sequenced clones in the bulk water and 25% of the biofilm community. The close association with Nitrospira suggested that a large part of the population had an autotrophic metabolism using nitrite as an electron donor. To test this hypothesis, nitrite was added to biofilm and bulk water samples, and the utilization was monitored during 15 days. A first-order decrease in nitrite concentration was observed for all samples with a rate corresponding to 0.5 × 105 to 2 × 105 nitrifying cells/ml in the bulk water and 3 × 105 cells/cm2 on the pipe surface. The finding of an abundant nitrite-oxidizing microbial population suggests that nitrite is an important substrate in this system, potentially as a result of the low assimilable organic carbon concentration. This finding implies that microbial communities in water distribution systems may control against elevated nitrite concentrations but also contain large indigenous populations that are capable of assisting the depletion of disinfection agents like chloramines.
doi:10.1128/AEM.71.12.8611-8617.2005
PMCID: PMC1317318  PMID: 16332854
11.  Long-Term Succession of Structure and Diversity of a Biofilm Formed in a Model Drinking Water Distribution System 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2003;69(11):6899-6907.
In this study, we examined the long-term development of the overall structural morphology and community composition of a biofilm formed in a model drinking water distribution system with biofilms from 1 day to 3 years old. Visualization and subsequent quantification showed how the biofilm developed from an initial attachment of single cells through the formation of independent microcolonies reaching 30 μm in thickness to a final looser structure with an average thickness of 14.1 μm and covering 76% of the surface. An analysis of the community composition by use of terminal restriction fragment length polymorphisms showed a correlation between the population profile and the age of the sample, separating the samples into young (1 to 94 days) and old (571 to 1,093 days) biofilms, whereas a limited spatial variation in the biofilm was observed. A more detailed analysis with cloning and sequencing of 16S rRNA fragments illustrated how a wide variety of cells recruited from the bulk water initially attached and resulted in a species richness comparable to that in the water phase. This step was followed by the growth of a bacterium which was related to Nitrospira, which constituted 78% of the community by day 256, and which resulted in a reduction in the overall richness. After 500 days, the biofilm entered a stable population state, which was characterized by a greater richness of bacteria, including Nitrospira, Planctomyces, Acidobacterium, and Pseudomonas. The combination of different techniques illustrated the successional formation of a biofilm during a 3-year period in this model drinking water distribution system.
doi:10.1128/AEM.69.11.6899-6907.2003
PMCID: PMC262284  PMID: 14602654

Results 1-11 (11)