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1.  Microbiota's 'little helpers': bacteriophages and antibiotic-associated responses in the gut microbiome 
Genome Biology  2013;14(7):127.
Antibiotics alter the abundance and types of bacteriophage-associated genes in the mouse gut, suggesting that phage help bacterial communities during times of stress.
PMCID: PMC4053952  PMID: 23906048
2.  Heterotrophic Archaea Contribute to Carbon Cycling in Low-pH, Suboxic Biofilm Communities 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2012;78(23):8321-8330.
Archaea are widely distributed and yet are most often not the most abundant members of microbial communities. Here, we document a transition from Bacteria- to Archaea-dominated communities in microbial biofilms sampled from the Richmond Mine acid mine drainage (AMD) system (∼pH 1.0, ∼38°C) and in laboratory-cultivated biofilms. This transition occurs when chemoautotrophic microbial communities that develop at the air-solution interface sink to the sediment-solution interface and degrade under microaerobic and anaerobic conditions. The archaea identified in these sunken biofilms are from the class Thermoplasmata, and in some cases, the highly divergent ARMAN nanoarchaeal lineage. In several of the sunken biofilms, nanoarchaea comprise 10 to 25% of the community, based on fluorescent in situ hybridization and metagenomic analyses. Comparative community proteomic analyses show a persistence of bacterial proteins in sunken biofilms, but there is clear evidence for amino acid modifications due to acid hydrolysis. Given the low representation of bacterial cells in sunken biofilms based on microscopy, we infer that hydrolysis reflects proteins derived from lysed cells. For archaea, we detected ∼2,400 distinct proteins, including a subset involved in proteolysis and peptide uptake. Laboratory cultivation experiments using complex carbon substrates demonstrated anaerobic enrichment of Ferroplasma and Aplasma coupled to the reduction of ferric iron. These findings indicate dominance of acidophilic archaea in degrading biofilms and suggest that they play roles in anaerobic nutrient cycling at low pH.
PMCID: PMC3497393  PMID: 23001646
3.  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
4.  Seasonal Changes in Methanogenesis and Methanogenic Community in Three Peatlands, New York State 
Fluctuating environmental conditions can promote diversity and control dominance in community composition. In addition to seasonal temperature and moisture changes, seasonal supply of metabolic substrates selects populations temporally. Here we demonstrate cascading effects in the supply of metabolic substrates on methanogenesis and community composition of anaerobic methanogenic archaea in three contrasting peatlands in upstate New York. Fresh samples of peat soils, collected about every 3 months for 20 months and incubated at 22 ± 2°C regardless of the in situ temperature, exhibited potential rates of methane (CH4) production of 0.02–0.2 mmol L−1 day−1 [380–3800 nmol g−1 (dry) day−1). The addition of acetate stimulated rates of CH4 production in a fen peatland soil, whereas addition of hydrogen (H2), and simultaneous inhibition of H2-consuming acetogenic bacteria with rifampicin, stimulated CH4 production in two acidic bog soils, especially, in autumn and winter. The methanogenic community structure was characterized using T-RFLP analyses of SSU rRNA genes. The E2 group of methanogens (Methanoregulaceae) dominated in the two acidic bog peatlands with relatively greater abundance in winter. In the fen peatland, the E1 group (Methanoregulaceae) and members of the Methanosaetaceae were co-dominant, with E1 having a high relative abundance in spring. Change in relative abundance profiles among methanogenic groups in response to added metabolic substrates was as predicted. The acetate-amendment increased abundance of Methanosarcinaceae, and H2-amendment enhanced abundance of E2 group in all peat soils studied, respectively. Additionally, addition of acetate increased abundance of Methanosaetaceae only in the bog soils. Variation in the supply of metabolic substrates helps explain the moderate diversity of methanogens in peatlands.
PMCID: PMC3294236  PMID: 22408638
metabolic substrate; methane production; methanogenic archaea; peatland; SSU rRNA gene; temporal niche
5.  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

Results 1-5 (5)