Recognition and degradation of plant cell wall polysaccharides by two human gut symbionts

Eric C. Martens, Elisabeth C. Lowe, Herbert Chiang, Nicholas A. Pudlo, Meng Wu, Nathan P. McNulty, D. Wade Abbott, Bernard Henrissat, Harry J. Gilbert, David N. Bolam, Jeffrey I. Gordon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

337 Scopus citations

Abstract

Symbiotic bacteria inhabiting the human gut have evolved under intense pressure to utilize complex carbohydrates, primarily plant cell wall glycans in our diets. These polysaccharides are not digested by human enzymes, but are processed to absorbable short chain fatty acids by gut bacteria. The Bacteroidetes, one of two dominant bacterial phyla in the adult gut, possess broad glycan-degrading abilities. These species use a series of membrane protein complexes, termed Sus-like systems, for catabolism of many complex carbohydrates. However, the role of these systems in degrading the chemically diverse repertoire of plant cell wall glycans remains unknown. Here we show that two closely related human gut Bacteroides, B. thetaiotaomicron and B. ovatus, are capable of utilizing nearly all of the major plant and host glycans, including rhamnogalacturonan II, a highly complex polymer thought to be recalcitrant to microbial degradation. Transcriptional profiling and gene inactivation experiments revealed the identity and specificity of the polysaccharide utilization loci (PULs) that encode individual Sus-like systems that target various plant polysaccharides. Comparative genomic analysis indicated that B. ovatus possesses several unique PULs that enable degradation of hemicellulosic polysaccharides, a phenotype absent from B. thetaiotaomicron. In contrast, the B. thetaiotaomicron genome has been shaped by increased numbers of PULs involved in metabolism of host mucin O-glycans, a phenotype that is undetectable in B. ovatus. Binding studies of the purified sensor domains of PUL-associated hybrid two-component systems in conjunction with transcriptional analyses demonstrate that complex oligosaccharides provide the regulatory cues that induce PUL activation and that each PUL is highly specific for a defined cell wall polymer. These results provide a view of how these species have diverged into different carbohydrate niches by evolving genes that target unique suites of available polysaccharides, a theme that likely applies to disparate bacteria from the gut and other habitats.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1001221
JournalPLoS biology
Volume9
Issue number12
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2011

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    Martens, E. C., Lowe, E. C., Chiang, H., Pudlo, N. A., Wu, M., McNulty, N. P., Abbott, D. W., Henrissat, B., Gilbert, H. J., Bolam, D. N., & Gordon, J. I. (2011). Recognition and degradation of plant cell wall polysaccharides by two human gut symbionts. PLoS biology, 9(12), [e1001221]. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.1001221