Publications in peer reviewed journals
Lifestyle and horizontal gene transfer-mediated evolution of Mucispirillum schaedleri, a core member of the murine gut microbiota2017 - mSystems, 2: e00171-16
Mucispirillum schaedleri is an abundant inhabitant of the intestinal mucus layer of rodents and other animals and has been suggested to be a pathobiont, a commensal that plays a role in disease. In order to gain insights into its lifestyle, we analyzed the genome and transcriptome of M. schaedleri ASF 457 and performed physiological experiments to test traits predicted by its genome. Although described as a mucus inhabitant, M. schaedleri has limited capacity for degrading host-derived mucosal glycans and other complex polysaccharides. Additionally, M. schaedleri reduces nitrate and expresses systems for scavenging oxygen and reactive oxygen species in vivo, which may account for its localization close to the mucosal tissue and expansion during inflammation. Also of note, M. schaedleri harbors a type VI secretion system and putative effector proteins and can modify gene expression in mucosal tissue, suggesting intimate interactions with its host and a possible role in inflammation. The M. schaedleri genome has been shaped by extensive horizontal gene transfer, primarily from intestinal Epsilon- and Deltaproteobacteria, indicating that horizontal gene transfer has played a key role in defining its niche in the gut ecosystem.
Variant profiling of evolving prokaryotic populations.2017 - PeerJ, e2997
Genomic heterogeneity of bacterial species is observed and studied in experimental evolution experiments and clinical diagnostics, and occurs as micro-diversity of natural habitats. The challenge for genome research is to accurately capture this heterogeneity with the currently used short sequencing reads. Recent advances in NGS technologies improved the speed and coverage and thus allowed for deep sequencing of bacterial populations. This facilitates the quantitative assessment of genomic heterogeneity, including low frequency alleles or haplotypes. However, false positive variant predictions due to sequencing errors and mapping artifacts of short reads need to be prevented. We therefore created VarCap, a workflow for the reliable prediction of different types of variants even at low frequencies. In order to predict SNPs, InDels and structural variations, we evaluated the sensitivity and accuracy of different software tools using synthetic read data. The results suggested that the best sensitivity could be reached by a union of different tools, however at the price of increased false positives. We identified possible reasons for false predictions and used this knowledge to improve the accuracy by post-filtering the predicted variants according to properties such as frequency, coverage, genomic environment/localization and co-localization with other variants. We observed that best precision was achieved by using an intersection of at least two tools per variant. This resulted in the reliable prediction of variants above a minimum relative abundance of 2%. VarCap is designed for being routinely used within experimental evolution experiments or for clinical diagnostics. The detected variants are reported as frequencies within a VCF file and as a graphical overview of the distribution of the different variant/allele/haplotype frequencies. The source code of VarCap is available at https://github.com/ma2o/VarCap. In order to provide this workflow to a broad community, we implemeted VarCap on a Galaxy webserver, which is accessible at http://galaxy.csb.univie.ac.at.
Convergent patterns in the evolution of mealybug symbioses involving different intrabacterial symbionts.2017 - ISME J, 3: 715-726
Mealybugs (Insecta: Hemiptera: Pseudococcidae) maintain obligatory relationships with bacterial symbionts, which provide essential nutrients to their insect hosts. Most pseudococcinae mealybugs harbor a unique symbiosis setup with enlarged betaproteobacterial symbionts ('Candidatus Tremblaya princeps'), which themselves contain gammaproteobacterial symbionts. Here we investigated the symbiosis of the manna mealybug, Trabutina mannipara, using a metagenomic approach. Phylogenetic analyses revealed that the intrabacterial symbiont of T. mannipara represents a novel lineage within the Gammaproteobacteria, for which we propose the tentative name 'Candidatus Trabutinella endobia'. Combining our results with previous data available for the nested symbiosis of the citrus mealybug Planococcus citri, we show that synthesis of essential amino acids and vitamins and translation-related functions partition between the symbiotic partners in a highly similar manner in the two systems, despite the distinct evolutionary origin of the intrabacterial symbionts. Bacterial genes found in both mealybug genomes and complementing missing functions in both symbioses were likely integrated in ancestral mealybugs before T. mannipara and P. citri diversified. The high level of correspondence between the two mealybug systems and their highly intertwined metabolic pathways are unprecedented. Our work contributes to a better understanding of the only known intracellular symbiosis between two bacteria and suggests that the evolution of this unique symbiosis included the replacement of intrabacterial symbionts in ancestral mealybugs.
Happens in the best of subfamilies: establishment and repeated replacements of co-obligate secondary endosymbionts within Lachninae aphids.2017 - Environ. Microbiol., 1: 393-408
Virtually all aphids maintain an obligate mutualistic symbiosis with bacteria from the Buchnera genus, which produce essential nutrients for their aphid hosts. Most aphids from the Lachninae subfamily have been consistently found to house additional endosymbionts, mainly Serratia symbiotica. This apparent dependence on secondary endosymbionts was proposed to have been triggered by the loss of the riboflavin biosynthetic capability by Buchnera in the Lachninae last common ancestor. However, an integral large-scale analysis of secondary endosymbionts in the Lachninae is still missing, hampering the interpretation of the evolutionary and genomic analyses of these endosymbionts. Here, we analysed the endosymbionts of selected representatives from seven different Lachninae genera and nineteen species, spanning four tribes, both by FISH (exploring the symbionts' morphology and tissue tropism) and 16S rRNA gene sequencing. We demonstrate that all analysed aphids possess dual symbiotic systems, and while most harbour S. symbiotica, some have undergone symbiont replacement by other phylogenetically-distinct bacterial taxa. We found that these secondary associates display contrasting cell shapes and tissue tropism, and some appear to be lineage-specific. We propose a scenario for symbiont establishment in the Lachninae, followed by changes in the symbiont's tissue tropism and symbiont replacement events, thereby highlighting the extraordinary versatility of host-symbiont interactions.
Metabolic and physiological interdependencies in the Bathymodiolus azoricus symbiosis.2017 - ISME J, 11: 463–477
The hydrothermal vent mussel Bathymodiolus azoricus lives in an intimate symbiosis with two types of chemosynthetic Gammaproteobacteria in its gills: a sulfur oxidizer and a methane oxidizer. Despite numerous investigations over the last decades, the degree of interdependence between the three symbiotic partners, their individual metabolic contributions, as well as the mechanism of carbon transfer from the symbionts to the host are poorly understood. We used a combination of proteomics and genomics to investigate the physiology and metabolism of the individual symbiotic partners. Our study revealed that key metabolic functions are most likely accomplished jointly by B. azoricus and its symbionts: (1) CO2 is pre-concentrated by the host for carbon fixation by the sulfur-oxidizing symbiont, and (2) the host replenishes essential biosynthetic TCA cycle intermediates for the sulfur-oxidizing symbiont. In return (3), the sulfur oxidizer may compensate for the host's putative deficiency in amino acid and cofactor biosynthesis. We also identified numerous 'symbiosis-specific' host proteins by comparing symbiont-containing and symbiont-free host tissues and symbiont fractions. These proteins included a large complement of host digestive enzymes in the gill that are likely involved in symbiont digestion and carbon transfer from the symbionts to the host.The ISME Journal advance online publication, 1 November 2016; doi:10.1038/ismej.2016.124.