Elucidating syntrophic butyrate-degrading populations in anaerobic digesters using stable-isotope-informed genome-resolved metagenomics

Ryan M. Ziels*, Masaru K. Nobu, Diana Z. Sousa

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Linking the genomic content of uncultivated microbes to their metabolic functions remains a critical challenge in microbial ecology. Resolving this challenge has implications for improving our management of key microbial interactions in biotechnologies such as anaerobic digestion, which relies on slow-growing syntrophic and methanogenic communities to produce renewable methane from organic waste. In this study, we combined DNA stable-isotope probing (SIP) with genome-centric metagenomics to recover the genomes of populations enriched in 13C after growing on [13C]butyrate. Differential abundance analysis of recovered genomic bins across the SIP metagenomes identified two metagenome-assembled genomes (MAGs) that were significantly enriched in heavy [13C]DNA. Phylogenomic analysis assigned one MAG to the genus Syntrophomonas and the other MAG to the genus Methanothrix. Metabolic reconstruction of the annotated genomes showed that the Syntrophomonas genome encoded all the enzymes for beta-oxidizing butyrate, as well as several mechanisms for interspecies electron transfer via electron transfer flavoproteins, hydrogenases, and formate dehydrogenases. The Syntrophomonas genome shared low average nucleotide identity (<95%) with any cultured representative species, indicating that it is a novel species that plays a significant role in syntrophic butyrate degradation within anaerobic digesters. The Methanothrix genome contained the complete pathway for acetoclastic methanogenesis, indicating that it was enriched in 13C from syntrophic acetate transfer. This study demonstrates the potential of stable-isotope-informed genome-resolved metagenomics to identify in situ interspecies metabolic cooperation within syntrophic consortia important to anaerobic waste treatment as well as global carbon cycling. IMPORTANCE Predicting the metabolic potential and ecophysiology of mixed microbial communities remains a major challenge, especially for slow-growing anaerobes that are difficult to isolate. Unraveling the in situ metabolic activities of uncultured species may enable a more descriptive framework to model substrate transformations by microbiomes, which has broad implications for advancing the fields of biotechnology, global biogeochemistry, and human health. Here, we investigated the in situ function of mixed microbiomes by combining stable-isotope probing with metagenomics to identify the genomes of active syntrophic populations converting butyrate, a C4 fatty acid, into methane within anaerobic digesters. This approach thus moves beyond the mere presence of metabolic genes to resolve "who is doing what" by obtaining confirmatory assimilation of the labeled substrate into the DNA signature. Our findings provide a framework to further link the genomic identities of uncultured microbes with their ecological function within microbiomes driving many important biotechnological and global processes.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere00159-19
JournalmSystems
Volume4
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 6 Aug 2019

Keywords

  • Anaerobic catabolic pathways
  • Anaerobic digestion
  • Metagenomics
  • Methanogenesis
  • Stable-isotope probing
  • Syntrophy

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