Microbiome (2017-06-01)

Diet shifts provoke complex and variable changes in the metabolic networks of the ruminal microbiome

  • Sara M. Wolff,
  • Melinda J. Ellison,
  • Yue Hao,
  • Rebecca R. Cockrum,
  • Kathy J. Austin,
  • Michael Baraboo,
  • Katherine Burch,
  • Hyuk Jin Lee,
  • Taylor Maurer,
  • Rocky Patil,
  • Andrea Ravelo,
  • Tasia M. Taxis,
  • Huan Truong,
  • William R. Lamberson,
  • Kristi M. Cammack,
  • Gavin C. Conant

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 5, no. 1
pp. 1 – 15


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Abstract Background Grazing mammals rely on their ruminal microbial symbionts to convert plant structural biomass into metabolites they can assimilate. To explore how this complex metabolic system adapts to the host animal’s diet, we inferred a microbiome-level metabolic network from shotgun metagenomic data. Results Using comparative genomics, we then linked this microbial network to that of the host animal using a set of interface metabolites likely to be transferred to the host. When the host sheep were fed a grain-based diet, the induced microbial metabolic network showed several critical differences from those seen on the evolved forage-based diet. Grain-based (e.g., concentrate) diets tend to be dominated by a smaller set of reactions that employ metabolites that are nearer in network space to the host’s metabolism. In addition, these reactions are more central in the network and employ substrates with shorter carbon backbones. Despite this apparent lower complexity, the concentrate-associated metabolic networks are actually more dissimilar from each other than are those of forage-fed animals. Because both groups of animals were initially fed on a forage diet, we propose that the diet switch drove the appearance of a number of different microbial networks, including a degenerate network characterized by an inefficient use of dietary nutrients. We used network simulations to show that such disparate networks are not an unexpected result of a diet shift. Conclusion We argue that network approaches, particularly those that link the microbial network with that of the host, illuminate aspects of the structure of the microbiome not seen from a strictly taxonomic perspective. In particular, different diets induce predictable and significant differences in the enzymes used by the microbiome. Nonetheless, there are clearly a number of microbiomes of differing structure that show similar functional properties. Changes such as a diet shift uncover more of this type of diversity.