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Disentangling metabolic functions of bacteria in the honey bee gut

It is presently unclear how much individual community members contribute to the overall metabolic output of a gut microbiota. To address this question, we used the honey bee, which harbors a relatively simple and remarkably conserved gut microbiota with striking parallels to the mammalian system and importance for bee health. Using untargeted metabolomics, we profiled metabolic changes in gnotobiotic bees that were colonized with the complete microbiota reconstituted from cultured strains. We then determined the contribution of individual community members in mono-colonized bees and recapitulated our findings using in vitro cultures. Our results show that the honey bee gut microbiota utilizes a wide range of pollen-derived substrates, including flavonoids and outer pollen wall components, suggesting a key role for degradation of recalcitrant secondary plant metabolites and pollen digestion. In turn, multiple species were responsible for the accumulation of organic acids and aromatic compound degradation intermediates. Moreover, a specific gut symbiont, Bifidobacterium asteroides, stimulated the production of host hormones known to impact bee development. While we found evidence for cross-feeding interactions, approximately 80% of the identified metabolic changes were also observed in mono-colonized bees, with Lactobacilli being responsible for the largest share of the metabolic output. These results show that, despite prolonged evolutionary associations, honey bee gut bacteria can independently establish and metabolize a wide range of compounds in the gut. Our study reveals diverse bacterial functions that are likely to contribute to bee health and provide fundamental insights into how metabolic activities are partitioned within gut communities.

http://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.2003467
 
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