News Release

Sequencing the feces of species to study their gut microbiota, "a largely untapped resource"

Peer-Reviewed Publication

American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

The genetic information in the feces from over 180 species spanning the animal kingdom has revealed their microbial diversity and identified nearly 1,000 previously unknown microbial species. The resulting dataset enables a glimpse into the functional roles of gut microbiota across animals with a range of adaptations and traits and could provide a promising resource - one that's largely gone untapped - for the discovery of new biological functions, therapeutics and biotechnology applications, say the authors. Compared to humans, the microbiota of wild animals remains virtually unknown. However, animals exhibit a wide range of adaptations and behaviors that may function due to their microbiome, such as the ability to eat pathogen-infected or poisonous food, or to have immunity to specific diseases. Mapping the microbiota of wild animals - a natural reservoir for pathogens of both animals and humans - could also provide valuable insights into the timing and routes of pathogen transmission into the human population and inform conservation strategies, especially as relates to reintroduction of captive animals into the wild. Leveraging several teams of researchers scattered across four continents, Doron Levin et al. used de-novo metagenome assembly to analyze fresh fecal samples from a diverse collection of taxa, including fish, birds and mammals with a wide variety of habitats, behaviors and traits. They then constructed a functionally annotated database containing over 5,000 genomes from 1,209 bacterial species - 75% of which were previously undescribed. Using the new database, the authors discovered a number of associations between an animal's microbial composition and functional gene content and their taxonomy, diet, activity, social structure and lifespan. For example, Levin et al. identified several proteases within the microbiota of vultures - some novel - that allow the birds to break down harmful bacterial toxins likely to proliferate in their rotting, carrion diet. "It is becoming increasingly evident that animal microbiomes are a rich source of biological functions that may have biotechnological impact," the authors write.


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