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Journal: The ISME journal


Lipopolysaccharide endotoxin is the only known bacterial product which, when subcutaneously infused into mice in its purified form, can induce obesity and insulin resistance via an inflammation-mediated pathway. Here we show that one endotoxin-producing bacterium isolated from a morbidly obese human’s gut induced obesity and insulin resistance in germfree mice. The endotoxin-producing Enterobacter decreased in relative abundance from 35% of the volunteer’s gut bacteria to non-detectable, during which time the volunteer lost 51.4 kg of 174.8 kg initial weight and recovered from hyperglycemia and hypertension after 23 weeks on a diet of whole grains, traditional Chinese medicinal foods and prebiotics. A decreased abundance of endotoxin biosynthetic genes in the gut of the volunteer was correlated with a decreased circulating endotoxin load and alleviated inflammation. Mono-association of germfree C57BL/6J mice with strain Enterobacter cloacae B29 isolated from the volunteer’s gut induced fully developed obesity and insulin resistance on a high-fat diet but not on normal chow diet, whereas the germfree control mice on a high-fat diet did not exhibit the same disease phenotypes. The Enterobacter-induced obese mice showed increased serum endotoxin load and aggravated inflammatory conditions. The obesity-inducing capacity of this human-derived endotoxin producer in gnotobiotic mice suggests that it may causatively contribute to the development of obesity in its human host.The ISME Journal advance online publication, 13 December 2012; doi:10.1038/ismej.2012.153.

Concepts: Bacteria, Gut flora, Nutrition, Insulin, Diabetes mellitus, Obesity, Adipose tissue, Metabolic syndrome


The response of microbial communities to long-term environmental change is poorly understood. Here, we study bacterioplankton communities in a unique system of coastal Antarctic lakes that were exposed to progressive long-term environmental change, using 454 pyrosequencing of the 16S rDNA gene (V3-V4 regions). At the time of formation, most of the studied lakes harbored marine-coastal microbial communities, as they were connected to the sea. During the past 20 000 years, most lakes isolated from the sea, and subsequently they experienced a gradual, but strong, salinity change that eventually developed into a gradient ranging from freshwater (salinity 0) to hypersaline (salinity 100). Our results indicated that present bacterioplankton community composition was strongly correlated with salinity and weakly correlated with geographical distance between lakes. A few abundant taxa were shared between some lakes and coastal marine communities. Nevertheless, lakes contained a large number of taxa that were not detected in the adjacent sea. Abundant and rare taxa within saline communities presented similar biogeography, suggesting that these groups have comparable environmental sensitivity. Habitat specialists and generalists were detected among abundant and rare taxa, with specialists being relatively more abundant at the extremes of the salinity gradient. Altogether, progressive long-term salinity change appears to have promoted the diversification of bacterioplankton communities by modifying the composition of ancestral communities and by allowing the establishment of new taxa.

Concepts: Time, Bacteria, Microbiology, 454 Life Sciences, 16S ribosomal RNA, Seawater, The Establishment, Saline water


Resident gut microbes co-exist with transient bacteria to form the gut microbiota. Despite increasing evidence suggesting a role for transient microbes on gut microbiota function, the interplay between resident and transient members of this microbial community is poorly defined. We aimed to determine the extent to which a host’s autochthonous gut microbiota influences niche permissivity to transient bacteria using a fermented milk product (FMP) as a vehicle for five food-borne bacterial strains. Using conventional and gnotobiotic rats and gut microbiome analyses (16S rRNA genes pyrosequencing and reverse transcription qPCR), we demonstrated that the clearance kinetics of one FMP bacterium, Lactococcus lactis CNCM I-1631, were dependent on the structure of the resident gut microbiota. Susceptibility of the resident gut microbiota to modulation by FMP intervention correlated with increased persistence of L. lactis. We also observed gut microbiome configurations that were associated with altered stability upon exposure to transient bacteria. Our study supports the concept that allochthonous bacteria have transient and subject-specific effects on the gut microbiome that can be leveraged to re-engineer the gut microbiome and improve dysbiosis-related diseases.

Concepts: Archaea, Bacteria, Gut flora, Microbiology, Ribosomal RNA, 16S ribosomal RNA, Microorganism, Lactococcus lactis


Global climate change is causing a wastage of glaciers and threatening biodiversity in glacier-fed ecosystems. The high turbidity typically found in those ecosystems, which is caused by inorganic particles and result of the erosive activity of glaciers is a key environmental factor influencing temperature and light availability, as well as other factors in the water column. Once these lakes loose hydrological connectivity to glaciers and turn clear, the accompanying environmental changes could represent a potential bottleneck for the established local diversity with yet unknown functional consequences. Here, we study three lakes situated along a turbidity gradient as well as one clear unconnected lake and evaluate seasonal changes in their bacterial community composition and diversity. Further, we assess potential consequences for community functioning. Glacier runoff represented a diverse source community for the lakes and several taxa were able to colonize downstream turbid habitats, although they were not found in the clear lake. Operational taxonomic unit-based alpha diversity and phylogenetic diversity decreased along the turbidity gradient, but metabolic functional diversity was negatively related to turbidity. No evidence for multifunctional redundancy, which may allow communities to maintain functioning upon alterations in diversity, was found. Our study gives a first view on how glacier-fed lake bacterial communities are affected by the melting of glaciers and indicates that diversity and community composition significantly change when hydrological connectivity to the glacier is lost and lakes turn clear.The ISME Journal advance online publication, 15 January 2016; doi:10.1038/ismej.2015.245.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Lake, Climate, Water pollution, Antarctica, Surface runoff, Turbidity, Glacier mass balance


Dinitrogen (N2)-fixation by cyanobacteria living in symbiosis with pleurocarpous feather mosses (for example, Pleurozium schreberi and Hylocomium splendens) represents the main pathway of biological N input into N-depleted boreal forests. Little is known about the role of the cyanobacterial community in contributing to the observed temporal variability of N2-fixation. Using specific nifH primers targeting four major cyanobacterial clusters and quantitative PCR, we investigated how community composition, abundance and nifH expression varied by moss species and over the growing seasons. We evaluated N2-fixation rates across nine forest sites in June and September and explored the abundance and nifH expression of individual cyanobacterial clusters when N2-fixation is highest. Our results showed temporal and host-dependent variations of cyanobacterial community composition, nifH gene abundance and expression. N2-fixation was higher in September than June for both moss species, explained by higher nifH gene expression of individual clusters rather than higher nifH gene abundance or differences in cyanobacterial community composition. In most cases, ‘Stigonema cluster’ made up less than 29% of the total cyanobacterial community, but accounted for the majority of nifH gene expression (82-94% of total nifH expression), irrespective of sampling date or moss species. Stepwise multiple regressions showed temporal variations in N2-fixation being greatly explained by variations in nifH expression of the ‘Stigonema cluster’. These results suggest that Stigonema is potentially the most influential N2-fixer in symbiosis with boreal forest feather mosses.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Bacteria, Evolution, Molecular biology, Organism, Plant, Mosses


Some of the coldest and driest permafrost soils on Earth are located in the high-elevation McMurdo Dry Valleys (MDVs) of Antarctica, but little is known about the permafrost microbial communities other than that microorganisms are present in these valleys. Here, we describe the microbiology and habitable conditions of highly unique dry and ice-cemented permafrost in University Valley, one of the coldest and driest regions in the MDVs (1700 m above sea level; mean temperature -23 °C; no degree days above freezing), where the ice in permafrost originates from vapour deposition rather than liquid water. We found that culturable and total microbial biomass in University Valley was extremely low, and microbial activity under ambient conditions was undetectable. Our results contrast with reports from the lower-elevation Dry Valleys and Arctic permafrost soils where active microbial populations are found, suggesting that the combination of severe cold, aridity, oligotrophy of University Valley permafrost soils severely limit microbial activity and survival.

Concepts: Microbiology, Water, Microorganism, Antarctica, McMurdo Dry Valleys, Victoria Land, McMurdo Sound, Dead Sea


Globally, marine surface sediments constitute a habitat for estimated 1.7 × 1028 prokaryotes. For benthic microbial community analysis, usually, several grams of sediment are processed. In this study, we made the step from bulk sediments to single sand grains to address the microbial community directly in its micro-habitat: the individual bacterial diversity on 17 sand grains was analyzed by 16S ribosomal RNA gene sequencing and visualized on sand grains using catalyzed reporter deposition fluorescence in situ hybridization. In all, 104-105 cells were present on grains from 202 to 635 μm diameter. Colonization was patchy, with exposed areas largely devoid of any epi-growth (mean cell-cell distance 4.5±5.9 μm) and protected areas more densely populated (0.5±0.7 μm). Mean cell-cell distances were 100-fold shorter compared with the water column. In general, growth occurred in monolayers. Each sand grain harbors a highly diverse bacterial community as shown by several thousand species-level operational taxonomic units (OTU)0.97. Only 4-8 single grains are needed to cover 50% of OTU0.97 richness found in bulk sediment. Although bacterial communities differed between sand grains, a core community accounting for >50% of all cells was present on each sand grain. The communities between sediment grains are more similar than between soil macroaggregates.The ISME Journal advance online publication, 1 December 2017; doi:10.1038/ismej.2017.197.

Concepts: DNA, Archaea, Bacteria, RNA, Ribosomal RNA, Ribosome, Gravel, Sediment transport


Soil is likely the most complex ecosystem on earth. Despite the global importance and extraordinary diversity of soils, they have been notoriously challenging to study. We show how pioneering microfluidic techniques provide new ways of studying soil microbial ecology by allowing simulation and manipulation of chemical conditions and physical structures at the microscale in soil model habitats.The ISME Journal advance online publication, 14 November 2017; doi:10.1038/ismej.2017.184.

Concepts: Archaea, Biodiversity, Species, Ecology, Soil, Nitrogen, Ecosystem, The ISME Journal


Carbon monoxide (CO) is a ubiquitous atmospheric trace gas produced by natural and anthropogenic sources. Some aerobic bacteria can oxidize atmospheric CO and, collectively, they account for the net loss of ~250 teragrams of CO from the atmosphere each year. However, the physiological role, genetic basis, and ecological distribution of this process remain incompletely resolved. In this work, we addressed these knowledge gaps through culture-based and culture-independent work. We confirmed through shotgun proteomic and transcriptional analysis that the genetically tractable aerobic soil actinobacterium Mycobacterium smegmatis upregulates expression of a form I molydenum-copper carbon monoxide dehydrogenase by 50-fold when exhausted for organic carbon substrates. Whole-cell biochemical assays in wild-type and mutant backgrounds confirmed that this organism aerobically respires CO, including at sub-atmospheric concentrations, using the enzyme. Contrary to current paradigms on CO oxidation, the enzyme did not support chemolithoautotrophic growth and was dispensable for CO detoxification. However, it significantly enhanced long-term survival, suggesting that atmospheric CO serves a supplemental energy source during organic carbon starvation. Phylogenetic analysis indicated that atmospheric CO oxidation is widespread and an ancestral trait of CO dehydrogenases. Homologous enzymes are encoded by 685 sequenced species of bacteria and archaea, including from seven dominant soil phyla, and we confirmed genes encoding this enzyme are abundant and expressed in terrestrial and marine environments. On this basis, we propose a new survival-centric model for the evolution of aerobic CO oxidation and conclude that, like atmospheric H2, atmospheric CO is a major energy source supporting persistence of aerobic heterotrophic bacteria in deprived or changeable environments.


Microorganisms encounter a diversity of chemical stimuli that trigger individual responses and influence population dynamics. However, microbial behavior under the influence of different incentives and microbial decision-making is poorly understood. Benthic marine diatoms that react to sexual attractants as well as to nutrient gradients face such multiple constraints. Here, we document and model behavioral complexity and context-sensitive responses of these motile unicellular algae to sex pheromones and the nutrient silicate. Throughout the life cycle of the model diatom Seminavis robusta nutrient-starved cells localize sources of silicate by combined chemokinetic and chemotactic motility. However, with an increasing need for sex to restore the initial cell size, a change in behavior favoring the attraction-pheromone-guided search for a mating partner takes place. When sex becomes inevitable to prevent cell death, safeguard mechanisms are abandoned, and cells prioritize the search for mating partners. Such selection processes help to explain biofilm organization and to understand species interactions in complex communities.