Biochemistry, Department of


Date of this Version



Microbiology Spectrum May/June 2022 Volume 10 Issue 3



This is a work of the U.S. Government and is not subject to copyright protection in the United States


ABSTRACT Trophic interactions between microbes are postulated to determine whether a host microbiome is healthy or causes predisposition to disease. Two abundant taxa, the Gram-negative heterotrophic bacterium Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron and the methanogenic archaeon Methanobrevibacter smithii, are proposed to have a synergistic metabolic relationship. Both organisms play vital roles in human gut health; B. thetaiotaomicron assists the host by fermenting dietary polysaccharides, whereas M. smithii consumes end-stage fermentation products and is hypothesized to relieve feedback inhibition of upstream microbes such as B. thetaiotaomicron. To study their metabolic interactions, we defined and optimized a coculture system and used software testing techniques to analyze growth under a range of conditions representing the nutrient environment of the host. We verify that B. thetaiotaomicron fermentation products are sufficient for M. smithii growth and that accumulation of fermentation products alters secretion of metabolites by B. thetaiotaomicron to benefit M. smithii. Studies suggest that B. thetaiotaomicron metabolic efficiency is greater in the absence of fermentation products or in the presence of M. smithii. Under certain conditions, B. thetaiotaomicron and M. smithii form interspecies granules consistent with behavior observed for syntrophic partnerships between microbes in soil or sediment enrichments and anaerobic digesters. Furthermore, when vitamin B12, hematin, and hydrogen gas are abundant, coculture growth is greater than the sum of growth observed for monocultures, suggesting that both organisms benefit from a synergistic mutual metabolic relationship.

IMPORTANCE The human gut functions through a complex system of interactions between the host human tissue and the microbes which inhabit it. These diverse interactions are difficult to model or examine under controlled laboratory conditions. We studied the interactions between two dominant human gut microbes, B. thetaiotaomicron and M. smithii, using a seven-component culturing approach that allows the systematic examination of the metabolic complexity of this binary microbial system. By combining high-throughput methods with machine learning techniques, we were able to investigate the interactions between two dominant genera of the gut microbiome in a wide variety of environmental conditions. Our approach can be broadly applied to studying microbial interactions and may be extended to evaluate and curate computational metabolic models. The software tools developed for this study are available as user-friendly tutorials in the Department of Energy KBase.