gutSMASH predicts specialized primary metabolic pathways from the human gut microbiota

Victòria Pascal Andreu, Hannah E. Augustijn, Lianmin Chen, Alexandra Zhernakova, Jingyuan Fu, Michael A. Fischbach*, Dylan Dodd*, Marnix H. Medema*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The gut microbiota produce hundreds of small molecules, many of which modulate host physiology. Although efforts have been made to identify biosynthetic genes for secondary metabolites, the chemical output of the gut microbiome consists predominantly of primary metabolites. Here we introduce the gutSMASH algorithm for identification of primary metabolic gene clusters, and we used it to systematically profile gut microbiome metabolism, identifying 19,890 gene clusters in 4,240 high-quality microbial genomes. We found marked differences in pathway distribution among phyla, reflecting distinct strategies for energy capture. These data explain taxonomic differences in short-chain fatty acid production and suggest a characteristic metabolic niche for each taxon. Analysis of 1,135 individuals from a Dutch population-based cohort shows that the level of microbiome-derived metabolites in plasma and feces is almost completely uncorrelated with the metagenomic abundance of corresponding metabolic genes, indicating a crucial role for pathway-specific gene regulation and metabolite flux. This work is a starting point for understanding differences in how bacterial taxa contribute to the chemistry of the microbiome.

Original languageEnglish
JournalNature Biotechnology
Publication statusPublished - 13 Feb 2023


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