Many microbes in complex competitive environments share genes for acquiring and utilising nutrients, questioning whether niche specialisation exists and if so, how it is maintained. We investigated the genomic signatures of niche specialisation in the rumen microbiome, a highly competitive, anaerobic environment, with limited nutrient availability determined by the biomass consumed by the host. We generated individual metagenomic libraries from 14 cows fed an ad libitum diet of grass silage and calculated functional isoform diversity for each microbial gene identified. The animal replicates were used to calculate confidence intervals to test for differences in diversity of functional isoforms between microbes that may drive niche specialisation. We identified 153 genes with significant differences in functional isoform diversity between the two most abundant bacterial genera in the rumen (Prevotella and Clostridium). We found Prevotella possesses a more diverse range of isoforms capable of degrading hemicellulose, whereas Clostridium for cellulose. Furthermore, significant differences were observed in key metabolic processes indicating that isoform diversity plays an important role in maintaining their niche specialisation. The methods presented represent a novel approach for untangling complex interactions between microorganisms in natural environments and have resulted in an expanded catalogue of gene targets central to rumen cellulosic biomass degradation.
Rubino, F., Carberry, C., M Waters, S., Kenny, D., McCabe, M. S., & Creevey, C. J. (2017). Divergent functional isoforms drive niche specialisation for nutrient acquisition and use in rumen microbiome. ISME Journal, 11(4), 932-944. https://doi.org/10.1038/ismej.2016.172