The functional repertoire contained within the native microbiota of the model nematode Caenorhabditis elegans.
The ISME journal
The microbiota is generally assumed to have a substantial influence on the biology of multicellular organisms. The exact functional contributions of the microbes are often unclear and cannot be inferred easily from 16S rRNA genotyping, which is commonly used for taxonomic characterization of bacterial associates. In order to bridge this knowledge gap, we here analyzed the metabolic competences of the native microbiota of the model nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. We integrated whole-genome sequences of 77 bacterial microbiota members with metabolic modeling and experimental characterization of bacterial physiology. We found that, as a community, the microbiota can synthesize all essential nutrients for C. elegans. Both metabolic models and experimental analyses revealed that nutrient context can influence how bacteria interact within the microbiota. We identified key bacterial traits that are likely to influence the microbe’s ability to colonize C. elegans (i.e., the ability of bacteria for pyruvate fermentation to acetoin) and affect nematode fitness (i.e., bacterial competence for hydroxyproline degradation). Considering that the microbiota is usually neglected in C. elegans research, the resource presented here will help our understanding of this nematode’s biology in a more natural context. Our integrative approach moreover provides a novel, general framework to characterize microbiota-mediated functions.