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1.  Gut bacteria are rarely shared by co-hospitalized premature infants, regardless of necrotizing enterocolitis development 
eLife  null;4:e05477.
Premature infants are highly vulnerable to aberrant gastrointestinal tract colonization, a process that may lead to diseases like necrotizing enterocolitis. Thus, spread of potential pathogens among hospitalized infants is of great concern. Here, we reconstructed hundreds of high-quality genomes of microorganisms that colonized co-hospitalized premature infants, assessed their metabolic potential, and tracked them over time to evaluate bacterial strain dispersal among infants. We compared microbial communities in infants who did and did not develop necrotizing enterocolitis. Surprisingly, while potentially pathogenic bacteria of the same species colonized many infants, our genome-resolved analysis revealed that strains colonizing each baby were typically distinct. In particular, no strain was common to all infants who developed necrotizing enterocolitis. The paucity of shared gut colonizers suggests the existence of significant barriers to the spread of bacteria among infants. Importantly, we demonstrate that strain-resolved comprehensive community analysis can be accomplished on potentially medically relevant time scales.
eLife digest
The spread of potentially harmful bacteria is a major source of disease in patients staying in hospitals. Premature babies—born before 37 weeks of pregnancy—can be particularly vulnerable to these infections because their organs may not yet be fully developed. Also, young babies do not have the fully established populations of beneficial microbes that help to protect us from dangerous bacteria.
Necrotizing enterocolitis—a life-threatening disease that can cause portions of the bowel to die—is mostly seen in extremely premature babies. Although it is not known what causes this serious condition, research has suggested that a contagious microbe may be responsible.
The development of methods that can sequence DNA from whole communities of microbes, known as metagenomics, allows researchers to identify the presence of individual strains of bacteria within these communities. This makes it possible to compare and contrast the strains of bacteria present in both diseased and healthy individuals, to help identify the bacteria responsible for a disease.
Here, Raveh-Sadka et al. used a metagenomics approach to study the communities of microbes present in premature babies in a hospital unit during an outbreak of necrotizing enterocolitis. The study found that very few bacterial strains were present in more than one baby, suggesting that bacterial strains are not readily transferred between the babies while they are in the hospital. Furthermore, Raveh-Sadka et al. reveal that no single bacterial strain was shared among all the babies who developed necrotizing enterocolitis.
These findings indicate that necrotizing enterocolitis is not caused by a single strain of bacterium. Instead, if bacteria do contribute to the disease, it maybe that it is caused by a variety of potentially harmful bacteria colonizing the gut at the cost of beneficial bacteria. In future, better understanding of the barriers that limit the transfer of bacteria between premature babies could help inform efforts to reduce the spread of infections between patients in hospitals.
PMCID: PMC4384745  PMID: 25735037
Microbiota; necrotizing enterocolitis; gut microbial colonization; nosocomial infections; preterm infants; metagenomics; other
2.  Metabolic interdependencies between phylogenetically novel fermenters and respiratory organisms in an unconfined aquifer 
The ISME Journal  2014;8(7):1452-1463.
Fermentation-based metabolism is an important ecosystem function often associated with environments rich in organic carbon, such as wetlands, sewage sludge and the mammalian gut. The diversity of microorganisms and pathways involved in carbon and hydrogen cycling in sediments and aquifers and the impacts of these processes on other biogeochemical cycles remain poorly understood. Here we used metagenomics and proteomics to characterize microbial communities sampled from an aquifer adjacent to the Colorado River at Rifle, CO, USA, and document interlinked microbial roles in geochemical cycling. The organic carbon content in the aquifer was elevated via acetate amendment of the groundwater occurring over 2 successive years. Samples were collected at three time points, with the objective of extensive genome recovery to enable metabolic reconstruction of the community. Fermentative community members include organisms from a new phylum, Melainabacteria, most closely related to Cyanobacteria, phylogenetically novel members of the Chloroflexi and Bacteroidales, as well as candidate phyla genomes (OD1, BD1-5, SR1, WWE3, ACD58, TM6, PER and OP11). These organisms have the capacity to produce hydrogen, acetate, formate, ethanol, butyrate and lactate, activities supported by proteomic data. The diversity and expression of hydrogenases suggests the importance of hydrogen metabolism in the subsurface. Our proteogenomic data further indicate the consumption of fermentation intermediates by Proteobacteria can be coupled to nitrate, sulfate and iron reduction. Thus, fermentation carried out by previously unknown members of sediment microbial communities may be an important driver of nitrogen, hydrogen, sulfur, carbon and iron cycling.
PMCID: PMC4069391  PMID: 24621521
metagenomics; proteomics; candidate phylum; hydrogenase; fermentation; sulfate reduction; microbial diversity
3.  CRISPR Immunity Drives Rapid Phage Genome Evolution in Streptococcus thermophilus 
mBio  2015;6(2):e00262-15.
Many bacteria rely on CRISPR-Cas systems to provide adaptive immunity against phages, predation by which can shape the ecology and functioning of microbial communities. To characterize the impact of CRISPR immunization on phage genome evolution, we performed long-term bacterium-phage (Streptococcus thermophilus-phage 2972) coevolution experiments. We found that in this species, CRISPR immunity drives fixation of single nucleotide polymorphisms that accumulate exclusively in phage genome regions targeted by CRISPR. Mutation rates in phage genomes highly exceed those of the host. The presence of multiple phages increased phage persistence by enabling recombination-based formation of chimeric phage genomes in which sequences heavily targeted by CRISPR were replaced. Collectively, our results establish CRISPR-Cas adaptive immunity as a key driver of phage genome evolution under the conditions studied and highlight the importance of multiple coexisting phages for persistence in natural systems.
Phages remain an enigmatic part of the biosphere. As predators, they challenge the survival of host bacteria and archaea and set off an “arms race” involving host immunization countered by phage mutation. The CRISPR-Cas system is adaptive: by capturing fragments of a phage genome upon exposure, the host is positioned to counteract future infections. To investigate this process, we initiated massive deep-sequencing experiments with a host and infective phage and tracked the coevolution of both populations over hundreds of days. In the present study, we found that CRISPR immunity drives the accumulation of phage genome rearrangements (which enable longer phage survival) and escape mutations, establishing CRISPR as one of the fundamental drivers of phage evolution.
PMCID: PMC4453577  PMID: 25900652
4.  Comparison of environmental and isolate Sulfobacillus genomes reveals diverse carbon, sulfur, nitrogen, and hydrogen metabolisms 
BMC Genomics  2014;15(1):1107.
Bacteria of the genus Sulfobacillus are found worldwide as members of microbial communities that accelerate sulfide mineral dissolution in acid mine drainage environments (AMD), acid-rock drainage environments (ARD), as well as in industrial bioleaching operations. Despite their frequent identification in these environments, their role in biogeochemical cycling is poorly understood.
Here we report draft genomes of five species of the Sulfobacillus genus (AMDSBA1-5) reconstructed by cultivation-independent sequencing of biofilms sampled from the Richmond Mine (Iron Mountain, CA). Three of these species (AMDSBA2, AMDSBA3, and AMDSBA4) have no cultured representatives while AMDSBA1 is a strain of S. benefaciens, and AMDSBA5 a strain of S. thermosulfidooxidans. We analyzed the diversity of energy conservation and central carbon metabolisms for these genomes and previously published Sulfobacillus genomes. Pathways of sulfur oxidation vary considerably across the genus, including the number and type of subunits of putative heterodisulfide reductase complexes likely involved in sulfur oxidation. The number and type of nickel-iron hydrogenase proteins varied across the genus, as does the presence of different central carbon pathways. Only the AMDSBA3 genome encodes a dissimilatory nitrate reducatase and only the AMDSBA5 and S. thermosulfidooxidans genomes encode assimilatory nitrate reductases. Within the genus, AMDSBA4 is unusual in that its electron transport chain includes a cytochrome bc type complex, a unique cytochrome c oxidase, and two distinct succinate dehydrogenase complexes.
Overall, the results significantly expand our understanding of carbon, sulfur, nitrogen, and hydrogen metabolism within the Sulfobacillus genus.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-1107) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4378227  PMID: 25511286
5.  New Approaches Indicate Constant Viral Diversity despite Shifts in Assemblage Structure in an Australian Hypersaline Lake 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2013;79(21):6755-6764.
It is widely stated that viruses represent the most significant source of biodiversity on Earth, yet characterizing the diversity of viral assemblages in natural systems remains difficult. Viral diversity studies are challenging because viruses lack universally present, phylogenetically informative genes. Here, we developed an approach to estimate viral diversity using a series of functional and novel conserved genes. This approach provides direct estimates of viral assemblage diversity while retaining resolution at the level of individual viral populations in a natural system. We characterized viral assemblages in eight samples from hypersaline Lake Tyrrell (LT), Victoria, Australia, using 39,636 viral contigs. We defined viral operational taxonomic units (OTUs) in two ways. First, we used genes with three different functional predictions that were abundantly represented in the data set. Second, we clustered proteins of unknown function based on sequence similarity, and we chose genes represented by three clusters with numerous members to define OTUs. In combination, diversity metrics indicated between 412 and 735 sampled populations, and the number of populations remained relatively constant across samples. We determined the relative representation of each viral OTU in each sample and found that viral assemblage structures correlate with salinity and solution chemistry. LT viral assemblages were near-replicates from the same site sampled a few days apart but differed significantly on other spatial and temporal scales. The OTU definition approach proposed here paves the way for metagenomics-based analyses of viral assemblages using ecological models previously applied to bacteria and archaea.
PMCID: PMC3811486  PMID: 23995931
6.  Biostimulation induces syntrophic interactions that impact C, S and N cycling in a sediment microbial community 
The ISME Journal  2012;7(4):800-816.
Stimulation of subsurface microorganisms to induce reductive immobilization of metals is a promising approach for bioremediation, yet the overall microbial community response is typically poorly understood. Here we used proteogenomics to test the hypothesis that excess input of acetate activates complex community functioning and syntrophic interactions among autotrophs and heterotrophs. A flow-through sediment column was incubated in a groundwater well of an acetate-amended aquifer and recovered during microbial sulfate reduction. De novo reconstruction of community sequences yielded near-complete genomes of Desulfobacter (Deltaproteobacteria), Sulfurovum- and Sulfurimonas-like Epsilonproteobacteria and Bacteroidetes. Partial genomes were obtained for Clostridiales (Firmicutes) and Desulfuromonadales-like Deltaproteobacteria. The majority of proteins identified by mass spectrometry corresponded to Desulfobacter-like species, and demonstrate the role of this organism in sulfate reduction (Dsr and APS), nitrogen fixation and acetate oxidation to CO2 during amendment. Results indicate less abundant Desulfuromonadales, and possibly Bacteroidetes, also actively contributed to CO2 production via the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle. Proteomic data indicate that sulfide was partially re-oxidized by Epsilonproteobacteria through nitrate-dependent sulfide oxidation (using Nap, Nir, Nos, SQR and Sox), with CO2 fixed using the reverse TCA cycle. We infer that high acetate concentrations, aimed at stimulating anaerobic heterotrophy, led to the co-enrichment of, and carbon fixation in Epsilonproteobacteria. Results give an insight into ecosystem behavior following addition of simple organic carbon to the subsurface, and demonstrate a range of biological processes and community interactions were stimulated.
PMCID: PMC3603403  PMID: 23190730
autotroph; metagenomics; proteomics; sediment; subsurface; syntrophy
7.  Microbes in the neonatal intensive care unit resemble those found in the gut of premature infants 
Microbiome  2014;2:1.
The source inoculum of gastrointestinal tract (GIT) microbes is largely influenced by delivery mode in full-term infants, but these influences may be decoupled in very low birth weight (VLBW, <1,500 g) neonates via conventional broad-spectrum antibiotic treatment. We hypothesize the built environment (BE), specifically room surfaces frequently touched by humans, is a predominant source of colonizing microbes in the gut of premature VLBW infants. Here, we present the first matched fecal-BE time series analysis of two preterm VLBW neonates housed in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) over the first month of life.
Fresh fecal samples were collected every 3 days and metagenomes sequenced on an Illumina HiSeq2000 device. For each fecal sample, approximately 33 swabs were collected from each NICU room from 6 specified areas: sink, feeding and intubation tubing, hands of healthcare providers and parents, general surfaces, and nurse station electronics (keyboard, mouse, and cell phone). Swabs were processed using a recently developed ‘expectation maximization iterative reconstruction of genes from the environment’ (EMIRGE) amplicon pipeline in which full-length 16S rRNA amplicons were sheared and sequenced using an Illumina platform, and short reads reassembled into full-length genes. Over 24,000 full-length 16S rRNA sequences were produced, generating an average of approximately 12,000 operational taxonomic units (OTUs) (clustered at 97% nucleotide identity) per room-infant pair. Dominant gut taxa, including Staphylococcus epidermidis, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Bacteroides fragilis, and Escherichia coli, were widely distributed throughout the room environment with many gut colonizers detected in more than half of samples. Reconstructed genomes from infant gut colonizers revealed a suite of genes that confer resistance to antibiotics (for example, tetracycline, fluoroquinolone, and aminoglycoside) and sterilizing agents, which likely offer a competitive advantage in the NICU environment.
We have developed a high-throughput culture-independent approach that integrates room surveys based on full-length 16S rRNA gene sequences with metagenomic analysis of fecal samples collected from infants in the room. The approach enabled identification of discrete ICU reservoirs of microbes that also colonized the infant gut and provided evidence for the presence of certain organisms in the room prior to their detection in the gut.
PMCID: PMC4392516  PMID: 24468033
8.  Genome resolved analysis of a premature infant gut microbial community reveals a Varibaculum cambriense genome and a shift towards fermentation-based metabolism during the third week of life 
Microbiome  2013;1:30.
The premature infant gut has low individual but high inter-individual microbial diversity compared with adults. Based on prior 16S rRNA gene surveys, many species from this environment are expected to be similar to those previously detected in the human microbiota. However, the level of genomic novelty and metabolic variation of strains found in the infant gut remains relatively unexplored.
To study the stability and function of early microbial colonizers of the premature infant gut, nine stool samples were taken during the third week of life of a premature male infant delivered via Caesarean section. Metagenomic sequences were assembled and binned into near-complete and partial genomes, enabling strain-level genomic analysis of the microbial community.
We reconstructed eleven near-complete and six partial bacterial genomes representative of the key members of the microbial community. Twelve of these genomes share >90% putative ortholog amino acid identity with reference genomes. Manual curation of the assembly of one particularly novel genome resulted in the first essentially complete genome sequence (in three pieces, the order of which could not be determined due to a repeat) for Varibaculum cambriense (strain Dora), a medically relevant species that has been implicated in abscess formation.
During the period studied, the microbial community undergoes a compositional shift, in which obligate anaerobes (fermenters) overtake Escherichia coli as the most abundant species. Other species remain stable, probably due to their ability to either respire anaerobically or grow by fermentation, and their capacity to tolerate fluctuating levels of oxygen. Metabolic predictions for V. cambriense suggest that, like other members of the microbial community, this organism is able to process various sugar substrates and make use of multiple different electron acceptors during anaerobic respiration. Genome comparisons within the family Actinomycetaceae reveal important differences related to respiratory metabolism and motility.
Genome-based analysis provided direct insight into strain-specific potential for anaerobic respiration and yielded the first genome for the genus Varibaculum. Importantly, comparison of these de novo assembled genomes with closely related isolate genomes supported the accuracy of the metagenomic methodology. Over a one-week period, the early gut microbial community transitioned to a community with a higher representation of obligate anaerobes, emphasizing both taxonomic and metabolic instability during colonization.
PMCID: PMC4177395  PMID: 24451181
Binning; Community genomics; Genome reconstruction; Human gut; Metagenomics; Microbial dynamics; Premature infant; Varibaculum cambriense; Time series binning
9.  Small Genomes and Sparse Metabolisms of Sediment-Associated Bacteria from Four Candidate Phyla 
mBio  2013;4(5):e00708-13.
Cultivation-independent surveys of microbial diversity have revealed many bacterial phyla that lack cultured representatives. These lineages, referred to as candidate phyla, have been detected across many environments. Here, we deeply sequenced microbial communities from acetate-stimulated aquifer sediment to recover the complete and essentially complete genomes of single representatives of the candidate phyla SR1, WWE3, TM7, and OD1. All four of these genomes are very small, 0.7 to 1.2 Mbp, and have large inventories of novel proteins. Additionally, all lack identifiable biosynthetic pathways for several key metabolites. The SR1 genome uses the UGA codon to encode glycine, and the same codon is very rare in the OD1 genome, suggesting that the OD1 organism could also transition to alternate coding. Interestingly, the relative abundance of the members of SR1 increased with the appearance of sulfide in groundwater, a pattern mirrored by a member of the phylum Tenericutes. All four genomes encode type IV pili, which may be involved in interorganism interaction. On the basis of these results and other recently published research, metabolic dependence on other organisms may be widely distributed across multiple bacterial candidate phyla.
Few or no genomic sequences exist for members of the numerous bacterial phyla lacking cultivated representatives, making it difficult to assess their roles in the environment. This paper presents three complete and one essentially complete genomes of members of four candidate phyla, documents consistently small genome size, and predicts metabolic capabilities on the basis of gene content. These metagenomic analyses expand our view of a lifestyle apparently common across these candidate phyla.
PMCID: PMC3812714  PMID: 24149512
10.  The human gut and groundwater harbor non-photosynthetic bacteria belonging to a new candidate phylum sibling to Cyanobacteria 
eLife  2013;2:e01102.
Cyanobacteria were responsible for the oxygenation of the ancient atmosphere; however, the evolution of this phylum is enigmatic, as relatives have not been characterized. Here we use whole genome reconstruction of human fecal and subsurface aquifer metagenomic samples to obtain complete genomes for members of a new candidate phylum sibling to Cyanobacteria, for which we propose the designation ‘Melainabacteria’. Metabolic analysis suggests that the ancestors to both lineages were non-photosynthetic, anaerobic, motile, and obligately fermentative. Cyanobacterial light sensing may have been facilitated by regulators present in the ancestor of these lineages. The subsurface organism has the capacity for nitrogen fixation using a nitrogenase distinct from that in Cyanobacteria, suggesting nitrogen fixation evolved separately in the two lineages. We hypothesize that Cyanobacteria split from Melainabacteria prior or due to the acquisition of oxygenic photosynthesis. Melainabacteria remained in anoxic zones and differentiated by niche adaptation, including for symbiosis in the mammalian gut.
eLife digest
Microbes are ubiquitous in the world and exist in complex communities called microbiomes that have colonized many environments, including the human gut. Until modern techniques for sequencing nucleic acids became available, many of the organisms found in these microbiomes could not be studied because they could not be cultured in the laboratory. However, advances in sequencing technology have made it possible to study the evolution and properties of these microbes, including their impact on human health.
Bacteria belonging to the phylum Cyanobacteria had a significant effect on the prehistoric Earth because they were the first organisms to produce gaseous oxygen as a byproduct of photosynthesis, and thus shaped the Earth’s oxygen-rich atmosphere. Early plants took up these bacteria in a symbiotic relationship, and plastids—the organelles in plant cells that perform photosynthesis and produce oxygen–are the descendants of Cyanobacteria.
Organisms evolutionarily related to Cyanobacteria have been found in the human gut and in various aquatic sources, but these bacteria have not been studied because it has not been possible to isolate or culture them. Now, Di Rienzi, Sharon et al. have used modern sequencing techniques to obtain complete genomes for some of these bacteria, which they assign to a new phylum called Melainabacteria.
By analyzing these genomes, Di Rienzi, Sharon et al. were able to make predictions about the cell structure and metabolic abilities of Melainabacteria. Like Cyanobacteria, they have two membranes surrounding the bacterial cell; unlike Cyanobacteria, however, they have flagella that propel them through liquid or across surfaces. Most interestingly, Melainabacteria are not able to perform photosynthesis, but instead produce energy through fermentation and release hydrogen gas that can be consumed by other microorganisms.
The genome of the bacteria isolated from water reveals that it has the capacity to fix nitrogen. Cyanobacteria can also fix atmospheric nitrogen, but the protein complexes used by the two phyla are not related, which suggests that nitrogen fixation evolved after the evolutionary divergence of Cyanobacteria and Melainabacteria.
By exploring previously published datasets of bacterial communities, Di Rienzi, Sharon et al. found that Melainabacteria are common in aquatic habitats. They are also prevalent in the guts of herbivorous mammals and humans with a predominantly vegetarian diet. Melainabacteria from the human gut also synthesize several B and K vitamins, which suggests that these bacteria are beneficial to their host because in addition to aiding with the digestion of plant fibers, they are also a source of vitamins.
PMCID: PMC3787301  PMID: 24137540
Cyanobacteria; Melainabacteria; photosynthesis; nitrogen fixation; human gut; subsurface; Human; Other
11.  New Group in the Leptospirillum Clade: Cultivation-Independent Community Genomics, Proteomics, and Transcriptomics of the New Species “Leptospirillum Group IV UBA BS” 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2013;79(17):5384-5393.
Leptospirillum spp. are widespread members of acidophilic microbial communities that catalyze ferrous iron oxidation, thereby increasing sulfide mineral dissolution rates. These bacteria play important roles in environmental acidification and are harnessed for bioleaching-based metal recovery. Known members of the Leptospirillum clade of the Nitrospira phylum are Leptospirillum ferrooxidans (group I), Leptospirillum ferriphilum and “Leptospirillum rubarum” (group II), and Leptospirillum ferrodiazotrophum (group III). In the Richmond Mine acid mine drainage (AMD) system, biofilm formation is initiated by L. rubarum; L. ferrodiazotrophum appears in later developmental stages. Here we used community metagenomic data from unusual, thick floating biofilms to identify distinguishing metabolic traits in a rare and uncultivated community member, the new species “Leptospirillum group IV UBA BS.” These biofilms typically also contain a variety of Archaea, Actinobacteria, and a few other Leptospirillum spp. The Leptospirillum group IV UBA BS species shares 98% 16S rRNA sequence identity and 70% average amino acid identity between orthologs with its closest relative, L. ferrodiazotrophum. The presence of nitrogen fixation and reverse tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle proteins suggest an autotrophic metabolism similar to that of L. ferrodiazotrophum, while hydrogenase proteins suggest anaerobic metabolism. Community transcriptomic and proteomic analyses demonstrate expression of a multicopper oxidase unique to this species, as well as hydrogenases and core metabolic genes. Results suggest that the Leptospirillum group IV UBA BS species might play important roles in carbon fixation, nitrogen fixation, hydrogen metabolism, and iron oxidation in some acidic environments.
PMCID: PMC3753937  PMID: 23645189
12.  Community genomic analyses constrain the distribution of metabolic traits across the Chloroflexi phylum and indicate roles in sediment carbon cycling 
Microbiome  2013;1:22.
Sediments are massive reservoirs of carbon compounds and host a large fraction of microbial life. Microorganisms within terrestrial aquifer sediments control buried organic carbon turnover, degrade organic contaminants, and impact drinking water quality. Recent 16S rRNA gene profiling indicates that members of the bacterial phylum Chloroflexi are common in sediment. Only the role of the class Dehalococcoidia, which degrade halogenated solvents, is well understood. Genomic sampling is available for only six of the approximate 30 Chloroflexi classes, so little is known about the phylogenetic distribution of reductive dehalogenation or about the broader metabolic characteristics of Chloroflexi in sediment.
We used metagenomics to directly evaluate the metabolic potential and diversity of Chloroflexi in aquifer sediments. We sampled genomic sequence from 86 Chloroflexi representing 15 distinct lineages, including members of eight classes previously characterized only by 16S rRNA sequences. Unlike in the Dehalococcoidia, genes for organohalide respiration are rare within the Chloroflexi genomes sampled here. Near-complete genomes were reconstructed for three Chloroflexi. One, a member of an unsequenced lineage in the Anaerolinea, is an aerobe with the potential for respiring diverse carbon compounds. The others represent two genomically unsampled classes sibling to the Dehalococcoidia, and are anaerobes likely involved in sugar and plant-derived-compound degradation to acetate. Both fix CO2 via the Wood-Ljungdahl pathway, a pathway not previously documented in Chloroflexi. The genomes each encode unique traits apparently acquired from Archaea, including mechanisms of motility and ATP synthesis.
Chloroflexi in the aquifer sediments are abundant and highly diverse. Genomic analyses provide new evolutionary boundaries for obligate organohalide respiration. We expand the potential roles of Chloroflexi in sediment carbon cycling beyond organohalide respiration to include respiration of sugars, fermentation, CO2 fixation, and acetogenesis with ATP formation by substrate-level phosphorylation.
PMCID: PMC3971608  PMID: 24450983
Chloroflexi; Metagenome; GIF9; Anaerolinea; Sediment; Dehalococcoides; Wood-Ljungdahl; Acetogenesis
13.  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
14.  Virus-Host and CRISPR Dynamics in Archaea-Dominated Hypersaline Lake Tyrrell, Victoria, Australia 
Archaea  2013;2013:370871.
The study of natural archaeal assemblages requires community context, namely, a concurrent assessment of the dynamics of archaeal, bacterial, and viral populations. Here, we use filter size-resolved metagenomic analyses to report the dynamics of 101 archaeal and bacterial OTUs and 140 viral populations across 17 samples collected over different timescales from 2007–2010 from Australian hypersaline Lake Tyrrell (LT). All samples were dominated by Archaea (75–95%). Archaeal, bacterial, and viral populations were found to be dynamic on timescales of months to years, and different viral assemblages were present in planktonic, relative to host-associated (active and provirus) size fractions. Analyses of clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR) regions indicate that both rare and abundant viruses were targeted, primarily by lower abundance hosts. Although very few spacers had hits to the NCBI nr database or to the 140 LT viral populations, 21% had hits to unassembled LT viral concentrate reads. This suggests local adaptation to LT-specific viruses and/or undersampling of haloviral assemblages in public databases, along with successful CRISPR-mediated maintenance of viral populations at abundances low enough to preclude genomic assembly. This is the first metagenomic report evaluating widespread archaeal dynamics at the population level on short timescales in a hypersaline system.
PMCID: PMC3703381  PMID: 23853523
15.  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
16.  Metabolites Associated with Adaptation of Microorganisms to an Acidophilic, Metal-Rich Environment Identified by Stable-Isotope-Enabled Metabolomics 
mBio  2013;4(2):e00484-12.
Microorganisms grow under a remarkable range of extreme conditions. Environmental transcriptomic and proteomic studies have highlighted metabolic pathways active in extremophilic communities. However, metabolites directly linked to their physiology are less well defined because metabolomics methods lag behind other omics technologies due to a wide range of experimental complexities often associated with the environmental matrix. We identified key metabolites associated with acidophilic and metal-tolerant microorganisms using stable isotope labeling coupled with untargeted, high-resolution mass spectrometry. We observed >3,500 metabolic features in biofilms growing in pH ~0.9 acid mine drainage solutions containing millimolar concentrations of iron, sulfate, zinc, copper, and arsenic. Stable isotope labeling improved chemical formula prediction by >50% for larger metabolites (>250 atomic mass units), many of which were unrepresented in metabolic databases and may represent novel compounds. Taurine and hydroxyectoine were identified and likely provide protection from osmotic stress in the biofilms. Community genomic, transcriptomic, and proteomic data implicate fungi in taurine metabolism. Leptospirillum group II bacteria decrease production of ectoine and hydroxyectoine as biofilms mature, suggesting that biofilm structure provides some resistance to high metal and proton concentrations. The combination of taurine, ectoine, and hydroxyectoine may also constitute a sulfur, nitrogen, and carbon currency in the communities.
Microbial communities are central to many critical global processes and yet remain enigmatic largely due to their complex and distributed metabolic interactions. Metabolomics has the possibility of providing mechanistic insights into the function and ecology of microbial communities. However, our limited knowledge of microbial metabolites, the difficulty of identifying metabolites from complex samples, and the inability to link metabolites directly to community members have proven to be major limitations in developing advances in systems interactions. Here, we show that combining stable-isotope-enabled metabolomics with genomics, transcriptomics, and proteomics can illuminate the ecology of microorganisms at the community scale.
PMCID: PMC3604775  PMID: 23481603
17.  Dynamic Viral Populations in Hypersaline Systems as Revealed by Metagenomic Assembly 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2012;78(17):6309-6320.
Viruses of the Bacteria and Archaea play important roles in microbial evolution and ecology, and yet viral dynamics in natural systems remain poorly understood. Here, we created de novo assemblies from 6.4 Gbp of metagenomic sequence from eight community viral concentrate samples, collected from 12 h to 3 years apart from hypersaline Lake Tyrrell (LT), Victoria, Australia. Through extensive manual assembly curation, we reconstructed 7 complete and 28 partial novel genomes of viruses and virus-like entities (VLEs, which could be viruses or plasmids). We tracked these 35 populations across the eight samples and found that they are generally stable on the timescale of days and transient on the timescale of years, with some exceptions. Cross-detection of the 35 LT populations in three previously described haloviral metagenomes was limited to a few genes, and most previously sequenced haloviruses were not detected in our samples, though 3 were detected upon reducing our detection threshold from 90% to 75% nucleotide identity. Similar results were obtained when we applied our methods to haloviral metagenomic data previously reported from San Diego, CA: 10 contigs that we assembled from that system exhibited a variety of detection patterns on a timescale of weeks to 1 month but were generally not detected in LT. Our results suggest that most haloviral populations have a limited or, possibly, a temporally variable global distribution. This study provides high-resolution insight into viral biogeography and dynamics and it places “snapshot” viral metagenomes, collected at a single time and location, in context.
PMCID: PMC3416638  PMID: 22773627
18.  Short-Read Assembly of Full-Length 16S Amplicons Reveals Bacterial Diversity in Subsurface Sediments 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(2):e56018.
In microbial ecology, a fundamental question relates to how community diversity and composition change in response to perturbation. Most studies have had limited ability to deeply sample community structure (e.g. Sanger-sequenced 16S rRNA libraries), or have had limited taxonomic resolution (e.g. studies based on 16S rRNA hypervariable region sequencing). Here, we combine the higher taxonomic resolution of near-full-length 16S rRNA gene amplicons with the economics and sensitivity of short-read sequencing to assay the abundance and identity of organisms that represent as little as 0.01% of sediment bacterial communities. We used a new version of EMIRGE optimized for large data size to reconstruct near-full-length 16S rRNA genes from amplicons sheared and sequenced with Illumina technology. The approach allowed us to differentiate the community composition among samples acquired before perturbation, after acetate amendment shifted the predominant metabolism to iron reduction, and once sulfate reduction began. Results were highly reproducible across technical replicates, and identified specific taxa that responded to the perturbation. All samples contain very high alpha diversity and abundant organisms from phyla without cultivated representatives. Surprisingly, at the time points measured, there was no strong loss of evenness, despite the selective pressure of acetate amendment and change in the terminal electron accepting process. However, community membership was altered significantly. The method allows for sensitive, accurate profiling of the “long tail” of low abundance organisms that exist in many microbial communities, and can resolve population dynamics in response to environmental change.
PMCID: PMC3566076  PMID: 23405248
19.  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
20.  A Semi-Quantitative, Synteny-Based Method to Improve Functional Predictions for Hypothetical and Poorly Annotated Bacterial and Archaeal Genes 
PLoS Computational Biology  2011;7(10):e1002230.
During microbial evolution, genome rearrangement increases with increasing sequence divergence. If the relationship between synteny and sequence divergence can be modeled, gene clusters in genomes of distantly related organisms exhibiting anomalous synteny can be identified and used to infer functional conservation. We applied the phylogenetic pairwise comparison method to establish and model a strong correlation between synteny and sequence divergence in all 634 available Archaeal and Bacterial genomes from the NCBI database and four newly assembled genomes of uncultivated Archaea from an acid mine drainage (AMD) community. In parallel, we established and modeled the trend between synteny and functional relatedness in the 118 genomes available in the STRING database. By combining these models, we developed a gene functional annotation method that weights evolutionary distance to estimate the probability of functional associations of syntenous proteins between genome pairs. The method was applied to the hypothetical proteins and poorly annotated genes in newly assembled acid mine drainage Archaeal genomes to add or improve gene annotations. This is the first method to assign possible functions to poorly annotated genes through quantification of the probability of gene functional relationships based on synteny at a significant evolutionary distance, and has the potential for broad application.
Author Summary
Based on trends between gene sequence divergence and gene order divergence over time, we developed a new synteny-based method to refine functional annotation. This method uses these trends to determine the probability that any two syntenous genes (genes that are sequential in two organisms) are functionally related. Organisms that are distant relatives have few syntenous genes, but these syntenous genes have a very high probability of functional relatedness. We applied this method to newly assembled genomes of co-occurring, uncultivated acid mine drainage Archaea in order to improve their gene annotations. This application revealed important physiological differences between the co-occurring organisms in this clade, including the ability of some but not all of the Archaea to manufacture vitamin B12 and to carry out anaerobic energy metabolism. We also used this method to identify new genes possibly involved in vitamin B12 synthesis, ether lipid synthesis, molybdopterin synthesis and utilization, and microbial immunity through the CRISPR system.
PMCID: PMC3197636  PMID: 22028637
21.  EMIRGE: reconstruction of full-length ribosomal genes from microbial community short read sequencing data 
Genome Biology  2011;12(5):R44.
Recovery of ribosomal small subunit genes by assembly of short read community DNA sequence data generally fails, making taxonomic characterization difficult. Here, we solve this problem with a novel iterative method, based on the expectation maximization algorithm, that reconstructs full-length small subunit gene sequences and provides estimates of relative taxon abundances. We apply the method to natural and simulated microbial communities, and correctly recover community structure from known and previously unreported rRNA gene sequences. An implementation of the method is freely available at
PMCID: PMC3219967  PMID: 21595876
22.  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
23.  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
24.  Proteogenomic Monitoring of Geobacter Physiology during Stimulated Uranium Bioremediation▿ †  
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2009;75(20):6591-6599.
Implementation of uranium bioremediation requires methods for monitoring the membership and activities of the subsurface microbial communities that are responsible for reduction of soluble U(VI) to insoluble U(IV). Here, we report a proteomics-based approach for simultaneously documenting the strain membership and microbial physiology of the dominant Geobacter community members during in situ acetate amendment of the U-contaminated Rifle, CO, aquifer. Three planktonic Geobacter-dominated samples were obtained from two wells down-gradient of acetate addition. Over 2,500 proteins from each of these samples were identified by matching liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry spectra to peptides predicted from seven isolate Geobacter genomes. Genome-specific peptides indicate early proliferation of multiple M21 and Geobacter bemidjiensis-like strains and later possible emergence of M21 and G. bemidjiensis-like strains more closely related to Geobacter lovleyi. Throughout biostimulation, the proteome is dominated by enzymes that convert acetate to acetyl-coenzyme A and pyruvate for central metabolism, while abundant peptides matching tricarboxylic acid cycle proteins and ATP synthase subunits were also detected, indicating the importance of energy generation during the period of rapid growth following the start of biostimulation. Evolving Geobacter strain composition may be linked to changes in protein abundance over the course of biostimulation and may reflect changes in metabolic functioning. Thus, metagenomics-independent community proteogenomics can be used to diagnose the status of the subsurface consortia upon which remediation biotechnology relies.
PMCID: PMC2765142  PMID: 19717633
25.  Community-wide analysis of microbial genome sequence signatures 
Genome Biology  2009;10(8):R85.
Genome signatures are used to identify and cluster sequences de novo from an acid biofilm microbial community metagenomic dataset, revealing information about the low-abundance community members.
Analyses of DNA sequences from cultivated microorganisms have revealed genome-wide, taxa-specific nucleotide compositional characteristics, referred to as genome signatures. These signatures have far-reaching implications for understanding genome evolution and potential application in classification of metagenomic sequence fragments. However, little is known regarding the distribution of genome signatures in natural microbial communities or the extent to which environmental factors shape them.
We analyzed metagenomic sequence data from two acidophilic biofilm communities, including composite genomes reconstructed for nine archaea, three bacteria, and numerous associated viruses, as well as thousands of unassigned fragments from strain variants and low-abundance organisms. Genome signatures, in the form of tetranucleotide frequencies analyzed by emergent self-organizing maps, segregated sequences from all known populations sharing < 50 to 60% average amino acid identity and revealed previously unknown genomic clusters corresponding to low-abundance organisms and a putative plasmid. Signatures were pervasive genome-wide. Clusters were resolved because intra-genome differences resulting from translational selection or protein adaptation to the intracellular (pH ~5) versus extracellular (pH ~1) environment were small relative to inter-genome differences. We found that these genome signatures stem from multiple influences but are primarily manifested through codon composition, which we propose is the result of genome-specific mutational biases.
An important conclusion is that shared environmental pressures and interactions among coevolving organisms do not obscure genome signatures in acid mine drainage communities. Thus, genome signatures can be used to assign sequence fragments to populations, an essential prerequisite if metagenomics is to provide ecological and biochemical insights into the functioning of microbial communities.
PMCID: PMC2745766  PMID: 19698104

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