Biological Systems Engineering, Department of


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Date of this Version



Chitin Interactions of a Model Soil Microbiome. mSystems. September/October 2022 Volume 7 Issue 5 10.1128/msystems.00372-22.


Open access.


Soil microorganisms provide key ecological functions that often rely on metabolic interactions between individual populations of the soil microbiome. To better understand these interactions and community processes, we used chitin, a major carbon and nitrogen source in soil, as a test substrate to investigate microbial interactions during its decomposition. Chitin was applied to a model soil consortium that we developed, “model soil consortium-2” (MSC-2), consisting of eight members of diverse phyla and including both chitin degraders and nondegraders. A multiomics approach revealed how MSC-2 community-level processes during chitin decomposition differ from monocultures of the constituent species. Emergent properties of both species and the community were found, including changes in the chitin degradation potential of Streptomyces species and organization of all species into distinct roles in the chitin degradation process. The members of MSC-2 were further evaluated via metatranscriptomics and community metabolomics. Intriguingly, the most abundant members of MSC-2 were not those that were able to metabolize chitin itself, but rather those that were able to take full advantage of interspecies interactions to grow on chitin decomposition products. Using a model soil consortium greatly increased our knowledge of how carbon is decomposed and metabolized in a community setting, showing that niche size, rather than species metabolic capacity, can drive success and that certain species become active carbon degraders only in the context of their surrounding community. These conclusions fill important knowledge gaps that are key to our understanding of community interactions that support carbon and nitrogen cycling in soil.